Oliver! review

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I approached Oliver!, Showbiz Queenstown’s current production, which premiered on Thursday night, with slight trepidation – namely, how could you follow Les Miserables, that show-stopper of all time, which SQ put on this time last year.

Thankfully, most of my concerns were laid to rest with an outstanding rendition of a superb musical with awesome songs which, surprisingly, Showbiz had never attempted before in its 35 year-history.

The Victorian characters initially portrayed in the compelling words of Charles Dickens were brought to life by some wonderful talents.

The best were undoubtedly Fiona Stephenson, who made her character, Nancy, compelling and believable, especially through great vocals and her Cockney accent, and that Showbiz veteran Marty McLay, who played an animated villain, Fagin. Whether it was a ‘twist’ or not, Fagin came across as a very likeable character.

Another standout was Caleb Dawson-Swale, who played that lovable rogue, The Artful Dodger, with great dexterity, despite not being as young as other Dodgers who’ve graced the stage.

Angus Reid, who played Oliver Twist, is a great little talent – for a 12-year-old to have that stage presence, he’s got a good future.

At the other end of the age scale, how delightful to see that Liverpudlian Arrowtown artist David John, playing Mr Brownlow, back on the stage.

The other principals were also very convincing including Mark Ferguson playing Mr Bumble, though his microphone was a little too close to his face so you heard some heavy breathing in the first couple of scenes.

Costuming was excellent, and so was the set design, especially in the way it was multi-layered rather than two-dimensional.

Scene change transition was good, as was the lighting, and Cheryl Collie directed as good a group of musicians as this reviewer’s ever heard in 25 years of going to Showbiz productions.

The choreography was also exceptional – take a bow, Stephen Robertson, who doubled as the choreographer and director.

Though there’s a saying about never putting your daughter – or son? – on the stage, the youngsters all acquitted themselves on the stage very well. All seemed to stay in character, and you didn’t see any of the fidgeting you might expect from eight or nine-year-olds.

Understandably, some of the young ones did struggle to hit the high notes, for example in Food Glorious Food.

But, all in all, marked out of 10, you couldn’t give this production less than an eight.

To coin a shocking pun, Oliver! left me wanting some more, please.