Starlight Musical Theatre’s Oliver!
IN this tale of thieves and vagabonds, there was one natural scene-stealer — and she did not even have to sing or dance to capture the audience.
Nellie the Staffordshire terrier, making her debut as Bill Sikes’ dog Bullseye, was a natural star, even if there were hints that she did not take stage direction well. The diva.
That her entrance in the show’s very first scene saw her hauled off-stage by the brutal Bill Sikes only endeared her further to a packed Eden Court audience.
Not that Nellie’s human co-stars did not acquit themselves well. They had to work harder too, not being able to rely on being naturally cute and having a waggy tale to make an impression.
However, on Wednesday’s opening performance, there were signs of first night nerves among the junior and adult cast and Food, Glorious Food was perhaps not quite the barnstorming opening it should have been.
Making up for it was You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, with Nicola Gray’s choreography making the young pickpockets attempts to rob Fagin (an in-form Garry Black) a free-flowing spectacle of movement and colour.
It was a fine showcase for Starlight’s troop of young lads, but next year will be the girls’ turn with Starlight eying up Annie for its 2016 production.
As the title character, Lachy Hogg has the sweetness of the film version’s Mark Lester, but as is so often the case on stage, if not life, it is good to be bad with the villains of the piece making the greater impression.
Along with Starlight veteran Black’s strong central role as Fagin, newcomer Dan Corr was impressive as a swaggering Artful Dodger while Jason Hasson brought a touch of the Ray Winstones to his Bill Sikes, making him a menacing presence you could easily believe could scare a bustling East End pub into silence.
Another fresh face, Alison Gilbert, made for a feisty Nancy, livening up the ensemble pieces like It’s A Fine Life with the life-loving gusto the song demands. And a word too for Rory Kay’s lighting effects which subtly turn her (SPOILER) final scene into a ripperish murder scene if you care to look closely.
Although Lionel Bart’s script gallops through Dickens’ chunky novel to fit in as many songs as possible, there is still room for some of the novelist’s strong characters to make an impression, likeable or not, such as Jennifer Masson putting the sour in Mrs Sowerberry, the shrewish wife of Leonard King’s penny-pinching undertaker, or William Ford’s bullying Noah.
Good family-friendly fare, it might not quite reach the standards of last year’s excellent West Side Story, but it is still a polished and entertaining night of entertainment from the ambitious Starlight.