Revival of 'Oliver!' continues to charm people of all ages

Oliver! Musical comedy by Lionel Bart (book, lyrics, music). Starring Ron Moody, Patti LuPone. Directed by Peter Cee. From its beginnings in 1960, Lionel Bart's version of ''Oliver Twist'' has been one of those rare shows whose appeal bridged the generation gap. All age groups have responded to its mixture of Dickensian melodrama, catchy songs, teeming action, and scenic spectacle. Judging by the response of a preview audience to the current revival at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, the appeal continues.

The production stars Ron Moody in the role he originated - the disreputable but beguiling old gang leader who presides over Oliver's education in thievery. Moody's Fagin is still larger than life, a comic grotesque who lives his larcenous existence with a certain seedy panache. At the Hellinger, Mr. Moody costars with Patti LuPone. Miss LuPone brings her powerful singing voice and equally powerful stage personality to the role of the doomed Nancy.

Braden Danner is an appealing little Oliver, a lad who endures his trials and tribulations with an astonishing degree of resiliency. Prominent among the essential fixtures of the lurid Bart-Dickensian world are David Garlick's comically artful Artful Dodger and Graeme Campbell's brutally menacing Bill Sikes. (Bill's bull terrier, Bullseye, is played by Vito or Buffy. Whichever animal appeared at the preview I covered was a credit to Bill Berloni's training. It never overacted.)

Among the more prominent incidental players in the populous cast are Michael McCarty and Elizabeth Larner as the Bumbles, Roderick Horn and Frances Cuka as the Sowerberrys, Sarah E. Litzsinger as Bet, and Michael Allinson as the benevolent Mr. Brownlow. Nor should one overlook the troupe of exuberant youngsters who double as the Workhouse Boys and Fagin's gang.

Mr. Bart's score has stood the test of time, notably comic songs like ''Food, Glorious Food,'' ''Consider Yourself,'' ''You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,'' and ''Reviewing the Situation.''

Besides starring Mr. Moody as Fagin, this ''Oliver!'' offers two further assurances of authenticity. It was directed by Peter Coe, who staged the original London production. It re-creates the late Sean Kenny's elaborate settings, with their seeming miles of endless stairways, atmospherically lighted by Andrew Bridge. The musical direction is by John Lesko.

''Oliver!'' may not be considered a great musical. But it is a solid piece of popular entertainment, a showmanly treatment of a Victorian classic, a British musical melodrama that holds its own nearly a quarter of a century after it was first produced.

Terra Nova. Play by Ted Tally. Directed by Gerald Gutierrez.

Although it ranges widely, Ted Tally's ''Terra Nova'' might in its essentials be described as a play about what constitutes the right stuff. At one point in this imaginary version of historical events, explorer Robert Scott's wife reminds him that he is a national hero, with his photograph displayed in every British classroom. The new drama at the American Place Theatre seeks to analyze the man behind the portraits, the forces that motivated him, their implications and consequences.

The facts are as starkly simple as the setting in which they are reenacted. In the winter of 1911-12, four Britons led by Robert Scott and four Norwegians led by Roald Amundsen raced each other to discover the South Pole. The Norwegians won by a month. The Scott party perished on the return journey, but records and remnants of the expedition were recovered.

''Terra Nova'' concerns the Britons. Moving back and forth between Antarctica and Edwardian England, the play unfolds in terms of Captain Scott's (Robert Foxworth) relationships with the men who followed him, with his wife, Kathleen (Christine Healy), and with the Nordic nemesis, Amundsen (Anthony Zerbe).

Amundsen's intrusive disparagements underscore the differences that divide the two men and define for each what the right stuff is. Their first disagreement erupts when Scott condemns the pragmatic Amundsen's use of his sled dogs for meat as his team approaches the pole. Scott will rely solely on manpower to draw his expedition's sled. ''You don't play the game,'' the Englishman complains.

To Mr. Tally, Scott was a man driven as much by insecurity and fear of failure as by ambition. At 41, with no hope for further naval promotion, he is determined to secure his own niche by making a significant contribution to Britain's imperial greatness.

While Mr. Zerbe's Amundsen strides briskly onto the scene to taunt his fellow explorer, the interludes with Kathleen touch on matters of romance and marriage. They record the progress of the unlikely relationship between a sculptor, clearly a ''new woman'' of her times, and the reserved but fascinated naval officer. Besides announcing her intentions toward him, Kathleen argues eloquently that exploring the arts may prove as valuable as exploring the limits of the globe.

Miss Healy's Pre-Raphaelite Kathleen blends charm and forthrightness. It is typical of the way in which the performance staged by Gerald Gutierrez illuminates the Tally text. Mr. Foxworth's Scott proves a leader whose humanity matches his determination. His fellow explorers are precisely characterized by Ian Trigger as the cheerful little Bowers, Simon Jones as the team's medical officer, Michael Countryman as the injured Welsh noncom who becomes a burden to the others, and Daniel Gerroll as the member who argues that the man should be left to die.

The production's technical effects deserve special praise: Douglas Stein's stark white-on-white settings, John Pieplow's handsome photo projections of England and Antarctica, Ann Emonts's period costumes, and Scott Lehrer's fierce, recorded windstorms. They are a tribute to this ambitious joint venture by Playwrights Horizons and the American Place Theatre.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Revival of 'Oliver!' continues to charm people of all ages
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today