This performance was by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.
Oliver is one of my top three favorite musicals in the world, but I am always very nervous when I go to see a performance of Oliver because it stars children. Children are often terrible actors and when they start singing out of tune don’t adjust their voice accordingly for the remainder of the song. Mistakes happen in every performance of Oliver, but the musical is so great that it is easy to ignore them. This performance by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre was better than average because the main roles were fantastic.
Fagin is a difficult role because he is supposed to be hilarious. Not just because of his script filled with one-liners, but every awkward mannerism and dance move he makes is supposed to make the audience laugh. Peter Sonnberg who played Fagin accomplished this. Every song I couldn’t take my eyes off Fagin, even if he wasn’t the main singer like in “I’d Do Anything”, because the way he moved was so entertaining. He is like a warm-hearted silly old man who doesn’t realize how goofy he is. When Bill Sikes brought Fagin his bounty of stolen goods for the day, I was laughing out loud, not because of the jokes being said but from Fagin’s lighthearted laugh after every joke.
Oliver’s voice was incredible. Emmanuel Morgan, who played Oliver, should be in a national boys choir. His voice was innocent, pure, and hit every high note with a beautiful falsetto. Oliver’s acting felt unnatural at times and his dancing was choppy, but this actually fit Oliver well who’s personality is supposed to be earnest and naive. The Artful Dodger had a great cockney accent and amazing stage presence. It was easy to see when he was performing with the other kids how much more natural his movements and acting was. Per Bergman who played The Artful Dodger really shone in every choreographed scene. This was important because The Artful Dodger is supposed to be a clever and talented character. Nancy was all around incredible, and perhaps the star of the show because of it.
Now for some complaints. The instrumentals were too quiet. I felt as though the singers were not able to project their voices because the music wouldn’t be able to accompany the volume. Scenes that usually feel intense were missing this intensity because the singing was too soft. For example in the opening song “Food, Glorious Food” I didn’t think the kids were actually hungry and wanting food, and in “I Shall Scream!” there was no screaming. However, on a positive note the lead violinist did a wonderful job playing the mournful notes.
I also didn’t like Bill Sikes costume. I thought he looked like a vampire with slicked back hair, white faced make-up with dark black eyes, and a black cape over a red vest.