NORTHEAST FLORIDA CONSERVATORY REVIEW
Jacksonville’s Northeast Florida Conservatory presented a six-performance run of Lionel Bart’s Tony Award Winning musical “Oliver” during July 16-19, 2015. The Conservatory, established in 2010, has presented three previous musical theater classics at their facility in Mandarin, which included “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “Music Man.” Lionel Bart, born in 1930, was a British composer, who, after achieving modest success as a pop song-writer during the fifties, wrote a couple of little-known musicals, followed in 1960 by “Oliver!” his only notable success, but a real blockbuster. The play had long runs in London and New York, with many successful revivals and tours, and remains a popular choice for both professional and community theatres today.Richard A. Dickson, the Conservatory’s founder and director, loves musical theatre and is a superb director and evaluator of talent. His productions keep getting better and better as more new actors and would be actors learn about the auditions and try out.
This musical version of Charles Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist”, which was first published in 1837, is set in and about London. The story is that of young Oliver, orphaned at birth by the death of his mother. We first meet him as a plucky youngster who has just been sent to a workhouse in the English countryside. We follow him in his life’s journey as he begins working for an undertaker, escapes to London where he finds shelter in a den of thieves, and is rescued by a well-to-do English gentleman.
We meet the avaricious Mr. Bumble (Josh Katzman) and the conniving Widow Corney (Laura T. Adkison) who are in charge of the workhouse. Mr. Katzman and Ms. Adkison were a fine comedy team as they sang the title song “Oliver” and the hilarious “I Shall Scream.”
Director Dickson had such a good turnout for the auditions that he double-cast three of the roles, to give some very talented young actors performance opportunities in alternating “Red Cast” and “Blue Cast” productions; we saw a “Blue Cast” version.
Eleven-year-old Alexander White was delightful in the lead role of Oliver. He obviously has taken voice sessions and sings well. Christopher DuClos, a veteran of Theatre Jacksonville’s summer acting program, delivered a fine portrayal of The Artful Dodger, while Samuel Gamel appeared as his buddy Charley Bates. “Red Cast” performances included Connor Henry as Oliver, Gavin Downs as the Dodger, and Camson Alevy as Charley.
Veteran actor Mark Snitzer was back on stage again at NFC after his previous outstanding performance as Tevye in “Fiddler.” This time, Mr. Snitzer grew a scruffy beard to play Fagin, the loveable recruiter of pickpockets. His songs, “You’ve Got To Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation,” were crowd favorites.
The lovely Nancy, an older member of Fagin’s gang, was portrayed by Clare Hambleton, in a truly remarkable performance. This was her first time in any production other than performances with her church’s parish choir. She has a lovely voice and was as good as any Nancy we have ever seen in this role. Bill Sykes, her abusive lover, is played with great menace by Evan Bowen.
One of the funniest scenes was between Mr. Sowerberry (Leonard Alterman) and Mrs. Sowerberry (Patty Everett) singing the rollicking song “That’s Your Funeral.”
Others in the cast included Noah Claypole (Will Cook), Charlotte(Audrey Everett), Bet, Nancy’s singing partner and best friend (Bailey Myers), Old Sally (Melissa White), Old Annie (Holly Silvia), Mrs. Bedwin (Award Winning actress Trish Strain), Mr. Brownlow (Frank Viggiano), Dr. Grimwig (Justin Reynolds), Barmaids (Stephanie Natter and Kylie Maldonado), Workhouse Assistants (Catherine Kennedy, Caleb Everett, and Madeline Gamel), and Strawberry Vendor (Michelle Nugent Munley).
Remember the name Rebecca Shaw, who had a small role with a solo as a rose vendor; she is a vocal student at NFC and sang beautifully. She will be doing leads in musicals in the next few years.
Appearing many times on stage both as orphans and pickpockets were actors starting at age six and up. They were Cecilia Adkison, Louise Everett, Amelia Munley, Natalie Painter, Hope Starr, and Mallory Zike. Under the guidance of professional choreographer Roxanna Lewis, these remarkable stars of the future were in almost every one of the scenes, doing an array of dance routines while singing, and, we might add, performing with precision.
The music was provided by an orchestra of fourteen, conducted by Musical Director Richard Dickson, with Bernie Katzman on piano. The musicians were excellent, and we especially enjoyed the melodic violins in the hands of Beth Shorstein and Daniel Savo.
Set Designer and Technical Director Justin Reynolds created all the scenes on this relatively small stage with remarkable ingenuity.
The Production Staff included Laura T. Adkison (Assistant Director) and Tad Wiggins (Lighting Design). We want to thank Ms. Adkison for the excellent program featuring color photos of all the participants, definitely very helpful to reviewers when there is a large cast. Thanks for a fun two hours of theatre.
Coming up next is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” with audition times and show dates to be announced. Check out www.nfcsonservatory. org or visit them on Facebook for more information.