Sutter Street Theatre has once again done the impossible. Of the dozen or more community theaters in this area, Sutter Street is the only one who year after year brilliantly puts full cast Broadway musical theater on its impossibly small stage.
This year’s offering is “Oliver,” Lionel Bart’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” From this grim novel of orphans finding ways to stay alive amid slave-like workhouses and criminals Bart has fashioned a show, directed by Connie Mockenhaupt, with wonderful songs you’ll be singing all the way home. The workhouse orphans open with their desire for “Food Glorious Food.” Oliver (played with charming innocence and a lovely voice by Jonathan Matta), after asking for more gruel, is sold by pompous Mr. Bumble (Mike Jemina) to an undertaker and his wife (Sonny Alforque and Laura Smith): “That’s Your Funeral.” Bumble has a hilarious scene in which he attempts to seduce Widow Corney (Dian Hoel, usually Sutter Street’s choreographer and dancer who shows she’s also a terrific screamer): “I Shall Scream”!
Oliver escapes to London where he is befriended by Artful Dodger (Benjamin Matta) and welcomed into aging criminal Fagin’s youthful pickpocketing gang with “Consider Yourself.” Fagin (a sinister but charmingly seductive Chris Witt) and the gang suggest “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.” Oliver earns the affection of the prostitute Nancy (the always glorious s Alison Gilbreath) and the suspicion of her big, dark, chilling boyfriend, thief Bill Sykes (a terrifying Jay Evans). Nancy’s soaring pledge of loyalty to Sykes, “As Long As He Needs Me,” is the musical peak of the show.
Other musical highlights are Oliver’s yearning “Where is Love?” Oliver and the ensemble’s “I’d Do Anything,” and Fagin’s contemplation of reforming his life, “Reviewing The Situation.” Chris Witt as Fagin is new to Sutter Street, and his subtle performance steals the show! He has a long history in theater, and I hope he sticks around so we can see what else he can do.
Costumer Eileen Beaver (with three helpers) as always does a wonderful job putting the cast of near thirty into period costumes. Set designer Mike Jimena has created a beautiful London skyline over London Bridge, which also becomes the enclosure of Fagin’s den, the Three Cripples Pub, and other locations through the use of moveable prop pieces. Mockenhaupt’s direction and vigorous choreography make sure the activity never slows. Audience members in the front row are literally inches away from flying arms and legs and occasionally flying bodies.
There is some graphic violence in this play. If bringing young children to a performance adults should be aware and prepare them. Those who know how superbly Sutter Street does musicals won’t need my recommendation, but if you haven’t seen them before, you won’t find a better evening of theater anywhere close by. But get tickets early; the show will probably sell out, as it surely should.