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NCT’s “Oliver!” Really Earns Its Exclamation Point

The Artful Dodger (Nicholas Kraft) befriends Oliver Twist (Sam Poon) in in the North Carolina Theatre's July 17-22 production of "Oliver!" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

The Artful Dodger (Nicholas Kraft) befriends Oliver Twist (Sam Poon) in in the North Carolina Theatre‘s July 17-22 production of “Oliver!” (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

The North Carolina Theatre‘s invigorating home-grown Broadway-style production of Oliver! really earns its exclamation point, with charismatic characterizations by a stellar cast led by Kevin Gray as Fagin and buoyant instrument accompaniment by musical director Edward G. Robinson and the NCT orchestra.

NCT’s robust rendition of Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic 1838 novel Oliver Twist unfolds on a soaring multilevel set originally designed and built for the Pittsburgh CLO, with its motley array of unforgettable characters cavorting in vivid Victorian costumes created by Costume World Theatrical and splendidly supplemented by NCT costumer Ann M. Bruskiewitz.

Stephen Tewksbury (left) as Bill Sykes confronts Kevin Gray as Fagin in "Oliver!" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Stephen Tewksbury (left) as Bill Sykes confronts Kevin Gray as Fagin in “Oliver!” (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Kevin Gray is suitably sleazy as London’s squinty-eyed and ultra-avaricious king of thieves, whose juvenile pickpocket gang embraces the title character after he escapes from the workhouse, which involuntarily apprentices him to the cruel undertaker Mr. Sowerberry and his frisky young wife (memorably portrayed Dirk Lumbard and Josephine Hall).

Sam Poon is sweet as the plucky orphan Oliver Twist, and makes “Where Is Love?” a real tear jerker. But Nicholas Kraft is even more charismatic — impertinence personified — as The Artful Dodger, Stephen Tewksbury is boo-scary as the murderous Bill Sykes, and Heather Patterson King gets to unleash her inner diva as Bill’s long-suffering girlfriend Nancy in “As Long As He Needs Me” and several other songs. Bravo!

Heather Patterson King as Nancy stops the show with a poignant performance of "As Long As He Needs Me" (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Heather Patterson King as Nancy stops the show with a poignant performance of “As Long As He Needs Me” (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Tim Caudle and Sarah Knapp have a couple of knee-slapping interludes as the insufferably pompous beadle Mr. Bumble and his sex-starved co-worker, workhouse matron the Widow Corney. Danny Norris is good as the philanthropic Mr. Brownlow, and Alexis van Venrooy adds a memorable cameo as Nancy’s BFF Bet.

Vigorous musical staging by guest director and choreographer Richard Stafford, associate director/choreographer Jonathan Stahl, and musical director Edward G. Robinson quickly gets Oliver! up on its feet and kicking up its heels; and kudos are also in order for the yeoman’s efforts of technical director Bill Yates, Jr.; lighting designer John Bartenstein; hair/wig/makeup designer Patricia DelSordo; properties managers Aline Johnson and George Burrows; sound designer Eric Alexander Collins; and sound designer/systems Brian L. Hunt. Together, they make Oliver! look and sound like a million bucks. Don’t miss it!

The Widow Corney (Sarah Knapp) and Mr. Bumble (Tim Caudle) browbeat Oliver (Sam Poon) about his temerity in asking for more food (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

The Widow Corney (Sarah Knapp) and Mr. Bumble (Tim Caudle) browbeat Oliver (Sam Poon) about his temerity in asking for more food (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

SECOND OPINION: July 20th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Tom Elrod (who awarded the show 3 out of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2012/07/20/nc-theatres-oliver-is-catchy-and-charismatic-but-lacks-realist-edge; July 19th Raleigh, NC SusiePotter.com review by Susie Potter: http://www.susiepotter.com/nc-theatres-oliver-has-something-for-everyone.html; July 19th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com “Out & About” review by Debbie Tullos: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/out_and_about/blogpost/11332570/; July 17th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/07/18/2205855/nc-theatres-oliver-is-sanitized.html; July 17th Clayton, NC Clayton News-Star preview by Rebecca Putterman: http://www.claytonnewsstar.com/2012/07/17/2201903/clayton-youth-stars-in-north-carolina.html; July 17th Raleigh, NC NBC 17 interview with Kevin Gray: http://www2.nbc17.com/entertainment/2012/jul/17/oliver-opens-at-raleigh-memorial-audito-21584-vi-49511/; July 16th Raleigh, NC WRAL-TV interview with Kevin Gray: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/11317592/#/vid11317592. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the July 16th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/07/sam-poon-and-kevin-gray-star-as-oliver-twist-and-london-child-crime-boss-fagin-in-oliver-at-nct/.)

The North Carolina Theatre will presents OLIVER! at 7:30 p.m. July 17-20 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 21 and 22 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $22.25-$84.75 (including fees).

BOX OFFICE:

NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1587720.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 5204, or http://nctheatre.com/tickets/group-sales.

SHOW: http://nctheatre.com/shows/oliver.

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pt5xa6jK5y8&feature=player_embedded.

SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/2012-shows.

PRESENTER: http://nctheatre.com/.

BLOG: http://nctheatre.com/stage-notes.

VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/memorial-auditorium.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. Saturday, July 21st, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

The Novel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Twist (Wikipedia).

Charles Dickens:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens (Wikipedia).

The Musical: http://oliverthemusical.com/ (Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. official website for the 2008 U.K. revival and tour), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver! (Wikipedia), http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/shows_o/oliver.htm (The Guide to Musical Theatre), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=6726 (Internet Broadway Database).

The Film: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/85532/Oliver-/ (TCM Movie Database), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver!_(film) (Wikipedia), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063385/ (Internet Movie Database).

Lionel Bart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Bart (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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