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OLIVER (Alex, Birmingham)

31-08-2009

The Alex offers its usual summer opportunity to the region’s youth to take to the big stage. Terry Wills relishes their production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver.

Question: Take 104 West Midlands wannabe’s aged 9 to 24 years, present them with the opportunity, after just 10 days rehearsals, to appear on a professional stage (many for the first time) in Lionel Bart’s smash hit musical ‘Oliver’, and who realistically could an audience expect to see as the finished product?

Answer: However unlikely it might seem, in this instance it worked. The audience enjoyed a splendid night’s entertainment comparing favourably with many professional companies, and as the curtain came down the performer thoroughly deserved the appreciative plaudits from an enthusiastic audience.

For the few who may not be familiar with the story of Oliver Twist, it’s set in Charles Dickens’ 1850 London. An unwanted orphan boy ensconced in an orphanage run by Mr Bumble. After a meal, still hungry, he has the audacity to ask for more.

Astonished looks and recriminations eventually lead to Oliver running away, meeting the Artful Dodger, taken under the wing by Fagin who makes his living courtesy of ‘running’ a gang of child thieves. Meeting kind hearted Nancy and the evil Bill Sykes sees him eventually finding a home with a kind wealthy family.

There’s the opening ‘Food, Glorious Food’, the closing ‘Reviewing The Situation’, and in between ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Pick A Pocket Or Two’ -‘Oom-Pah-Pah’, ‘Who will Buy’, ‘I’d do Anything’ and, for me, the show stopping rendition of ‘As Long As He Needs ‘Me’ sung by 17 year old Gemma Hudson as Nancy.

Gemma has already taken many leading roles in Youth Onstage productions and as these include Sally (Me and My Girl) Miss Hannigan (Annie) Reno Sweeney (Anything Goes) and Katie Brown (Calamity Jane).

These prized roles point the way to her eventually carving out a very promising career in Musical Theatre.

In this respect she’s not alone. Kaine Barr was a truly evil Bill Sykes aided by Rorie McGhie’s splendid commanding portrayal as the smooth talking devious confident Fagin.

Bradley O’Neill was a cocky Artful Dodger, while 10 year old Ryan Gordon played the title role displaying a sense of hurt, bewilderment and wondering as his situation changed from finding himself in the hands of a couple who believe he’s a long lost relation, to suddenly propelled back among Fagin’s den of thieves.

Indeed digesting the biographies of the talented cast more or less confirmed, to me at least, that many WILL go on to make a successful career in Musical Theatre. Add to this their performances in ‘Oliver’ and I’m confident future Alexandra Theatre audiences can look forward to seeing them appearing in further professional productions.

Congratulations to everyone who made Oliver such a entertaining night out and that most definitely incorporates the thirteen-piece orchestra under the Musical Director Matthew Freeman.

A volume allowing every word to be heard clearly and distinctly-as opposed to certain productions that on occasions have led to some members of an audience watching with hands over ears!

Again congratulations the ‘Alexandra Theatre Stage Experience’. Already looking forward to your 2010 Musical production… whatever it may be?

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