‘Oliver! The Musical’ at Adventure Theatre MTC

This summer, Adventure Theatre MTC brings Lionel Bart’s Oliver! to Round House Theatre in their first Two Act Musical in 63 years! While Adventure Theatre is celebrated for their award-winning one-act children’s shows, they endeavor to expand their horizons (as well as their audience) with this ambitious project– and they rise to the challenge spectacularly. Director Joseph Ritsch uses a Steampunk reimagining to give this beloved musical a youthful and edgy “twist”!

Franco Cabanas as Oliver. Photo by Mike Horan.
Franco Cabanas as Oliver. Photo by Mike Horan.

Scenic Deisgner Douglas Clarke uses a projection backdrop to show a variety of settings, from a run-down cobbled street to the interior of a lowly workhouse. The set is dual-leveled, including  a steely overpass set against a clock tower. The atmosphere is a dim one, made no more friendly with an assortment of “Wanted” posters tacked under the gutters.

Lighting Designer Martha Mountain further accents the desperation of Victorian London with dreary dappled lighting, and Sound Designer Eric Shimelonis completes the effect with crickets and the clip-clop of horse-drawn carts.

My favorite technical aspect of this production, however, are the costumes, designed by Julie Potter. It is in the ensembles where we see the Steampunk influence the most; goggles, leather trenchcoats, high buckled boots, heavy eyeliner, and corseted dresses are only a few examples of what to expect. It’s stunning!

Musical Director William Yanesh leads a chamber orchestra for this production, with Stephen Czarkowski on cello, Siena Sanchez-O’Brien on violin, Chrish Deech on percussion, and Yanesh on piano. The music is delivered as professionally as you could hope for, and the mic’ed actors are in no danger of being drowned out by the live music.

The choreography by Rachel Leigh Dolan is stellar. I especially loved the group choreography accompanying the numbers “Food, Glorious Food,” and “I’d Do Anything,” where the actors pile atop of one another to form a human carriage, and later, a ship.

Rick Hammerly as Fagin. Photo by Mike Horan.
Rick Hammerly as Fagin. Photo by Mike Horan.

When young orphaned Oliver (a sweet and beautifully sung performance by Franco Cabanas) finds himself stranded on the busy London streets, he is taken in by a gang of mischiefs and thieves, led by a somwehat immoral man named Fagin. And a special bod to Fight Choreographer Jenny Male for her fine work.

Rick Hammerly highlights the humor of Fagin’s character in an outstanding performance, using clever trickery and slight-of-hand in the number “Pick a Pocket or Two.” And his “Reviewing the Situation” is a tour de force.

Greg Twomey is all power and rage as Bill Sykes, a villainous man who commands attention with his guttural number “My Name.”

Jake Foster shows an extraordinary amount of promising talent as The Artful Dodger, a charming and cunning young boy who befriends Oliver in the number “Consider Yourself.”

Meanwhile, Melynda Burdette and Danny Pushkin share a fun, flirty little duet in “I Shall Scream” as The Widow Corney and Mr. Bumble.

As Oliver settles into this band of vagrants, a chance meeting catapults him into a dangerous adventure! Will Oliver finally find his true family?

With a cast of nearly thirty actors, Adventure Theatre MTC is venturing entirely out of their comfort zone (a typical production of theirs involves an average of five actors)—and the payoff proves to be as big as the risk itself.

Thanks to Ritsch’s superb direction, the amazing cast works together seamlessly.

All the performances are fantastic—but Felicia Curry outshines everyone as Nancy, with an exuberant performance and absolute powerhouse vocals. She raises the audience into high spirits with catchy numbers like “It’s a Fine Life” and “Oom-Pah-Pah,”and  then proceeds to break everyone’s hearts with the melancholy and deeply emotional “ As Long as He Needs Me.” To see her in this role was a truly a wonderful experience.

 Felicia Curry as Nancy and Jake Foster as The Artful Dodger. Photo by Mike Horan.

Felicia Curry as Nancy and Jake Foster as The Artful Dodger. Photo by Mike Horan.

While Adventure Theatre MTC is known for their young target audience and family-friendly entertainment, this production is better-suited for older children, as there are some difficult moments to see, such as beatings, violence, and gunshots. However, if you have an older child or teen who is interested in musical theatre, then this is definitely a must-see!

As dark as this show can get, it is balanced out with numbers full of energy and fun. I especially loved the cleverly-written “That’s Your Funeral” sung by Keith Richards and Marni Ratner Whelan as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry. Choosing Steampunk as the main influence was a stroke of genius and works spectacularly, lending the production a fantasy element that enchants!

I could not be more impressed with Adventure Theatre MTC’s venture into full-length productions, and I hope to see more in the future.

Adventure Theatre MTC’s stunning Oliver! The Musical is definitely one production that I will not forget. Consider yourself very lucky if you are able to snag some tickets to see this glorious production of a Broadway musical classic!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.


OLIVER! plays through August 16, 2015 at Adventure Theatre MTC performing at Round House Theatre – 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the box office, or online.

Meet the Director and Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s ‘Oliver!’: Part 1: Director Joseph Ritsch by Joel Markowitz.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif


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