Liberty Theater Department Twist On “Oliver!” Concludes Fall Season
Eerie purple lighting, ominous music and a towering, shadowy set – undoubtedly a frightful setting for a little boy. Yet, this opening scene of “Oliver!” encapsulates well the treacherous, unpredictable existence of its young title character Oliver Twist.
The Liberty Theater Department’s production of “Oliver!” follows the twists of fate endured by a young orphan boy in early 19th-century London. “Oliver!,” written by Lionel Bart, is based on Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist.” Liberty Associate Professor of Theatre Chris Nelson directed the production.
In the opening scene, Oliver Twist is left at a dreary orphanage where the children receive little food and unmerciful treatment. His last name, assigned by the orphanage’s cruel, witless caretaker Mr. Bumble, appropriately foreshadows his rapidly changing circumstances.
After Oliver asks Bumble for more food, he sells Oliver to an undertaker. Then, caught fighting a fellow employee who insulted his dead mother, Oliver flees to London.
There, a pickpocket called the Artful Dodger invites Oliver to live with a gang of other young pickpockets. Led by an older thief named Fagin, the gang teaches Oliver its ways. He meets Nancy, the lively girlfriend of Fagin’s menacing partner in crime Bill Sikes.
After he has been trained, Oliver and the other children head to the market to pickpocket. On his first attempt to pick the pocket of an older, wealthy gentleman, Oliver gets caught and arrested. The gang abandons him and flees the market, closing Act 1.
Act 2 opens in a rowdy pub where townspeople dance and drink. Dodger bursts in, announcing Oliver’s capture.
Fearful that Oliver will expose thethieves’ hideout, Fagin and Sikes decide to abduct him. They solicit Nancy’s help, since she is “good with the boy.” However, she refuses to take part in the kidnapping until Sikes strikes her.
As the pub empties, Nancy delivers a powerful, heartbreaking solo titled “As Long as He Needs Me,” explaining her devotion to Sikes in spite of his abuse.
Meanwhile, Oliver awakens in the home of wealthy Mr. Brownlow, the man whose pocket he attempted to pick. After a doctor determines he is healthy, Oliver volunteers to run an errand for Brownlow. He makes his way to the market, where Nancy and Sikes kidnap and take him back to the thieves’ den.
Back in the orphanage, Mr. Bumble and his wife, Mrs. Corney, have their bickering interrupted by the entrance of a disheveled, dying woman.
She hands Mrs. Corney a golden locket with a young woman’s portrait inside, which, with her dying breath, she confesses she stole from Oliver’s mother.
The pair deduces with glee that Oliver must have wealthy relatives, and they pay a visit to Mr. Brownlow. He sees right through their greed and kicks them out of his house.
As Mr. Brownlow inspects the locket they left with him, he realizes it contains a portrait of his daughter, meaning Oliver is his grandson.
Soon after, Mr. Brownlow has another guest, Nancy. She confesses to kidnapping Oliver but promises to meet Mr. Brownlow with him on the London Bridge at midnight.
A suspicious Sikes follows Nancy and Oliver to the bridge. When he realizes their plan, Sikes beats Nancy to death.
While Oliver’s story of abuse, neglect and poverty can be disheartening, the production is livened by expressive singing and dancing.
And Oliver does get his happy ending. Reunited with Mr. Brownlow, he finally has a family and a roof over his head, safe from the treacherous life he once lived.
Students can see “Oliver!” Dec. 9-12. Tickets are available at the Ticket Office at (434) 582-7328 or visit the box office website.
Farmer is the asst. feature editor.