National Asian Artists Project’s OLIVER!

Oliver! at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theater, Pershing Square Signature Ceneter, June 5 though 7

Bonale Zohn Fambrini as one adorable Oliver! at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theater, Pershing Square Signature Ceneter, June 5 though 7

Whenever I watch the 1968 movie version of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! I am struck all over again at what a magnificent, superlative ensemble cast was assembled for it.  Mark Lester as the innocent but beleaguered orphan Oliver, Jack Wild as the little con artist/pickpocket, The Artful Dodger, Harry Secombe as the bombastic beadle, the radiant songstress Shani Wallis as Nancy, Oliver Reed as the mostly silent, yet eerily menacing, sociopath Bill Sykes, and – last but certainly not least – the incomparable Ron Moody as the outrageous, over-the-top Fagin, den master and crime coach to a den of kiddie thieves.  Every single one of them nails their part.

I have loved that movie since I was a little girl.  I must have seen it eleven times during its run while it was still playing in 1960’s movie theaters and many more times since – you can be sure I own a copy of the DVD.

Yet I never saw it performed live, in person, before an audience – until tonight.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the invited dress rehearsal for the National Asian Art Project’s production of Oliver!  The show is drected by Steven Eng.  Baayork Lee did a fantastic joy as the Choreographer.

Oliver! is the quintessential story of a good kid in circumstances that are beyond his control.  His mother gives birth to him in an English workhouse then dies without revealing his identity.  Chosen by his workhouse pals to be the child who dares to ask for more food, Oliver is sold by the unscrupulous beadle who runs the place to an undertaker who’s gleefully anticipating the money he might make if he uses the boy as a “mute” at children’s funerals.  The sale doesn’t work out, Oliver runs away, and the first person he meets is the Artful Dodger, who sees a new recruit for his pal Fagin in the boy.  Oliver is taken by the Dodger to a gang of people that seem rather on-the-surface jolly by comparison to the ones he was subjected to previously.  Unfortunately, they’re professional thieves, led by Fagin, who presides over a household of kiddie pickpockets, training them in their, ahem, “craft.”  One of Fagin’s rogues, Bill Sykes, is also a woman-batterer and a killer.  His warm and wonderful girlfriend Nancy, though, has other ideas about what is best for Oliver…

This cast was superb!  Everyone did a spectacular job.  Oliver, Nancy, the Artful Dodger, the wacky undertaker, the beadle – all of them will put a smile on your face.  The actor playing Sykes will scare you half silly.

My favorite bit of business in this show came about when Raul Aranas as Fagin is singing the tongue-in-cheek number, “Be Back Soon.”  On the surface, it sounds like a song that a father might sing as he sees his kids off to a day at school, but Fagin’s not the children’s father.  He’s running a pickpocket operation.  “I love you that’s why I say cherrio, not goodbye,” he sings, which is, of course, ridiculous.  If he loved these kids, he’d never be using them as a part of his criminal enterprise in the first place.  He’s so outrageous that it’s funny just the same.  At one point, he doesn’t just wave them farewell as they leave the compound to pick pockets all over London, he does a circular wave, like royalty.  I was on the floor.

Do not miss this wonderful production!  I loved it so much I’m returning on Saturday.  The show is playing June 5th at 7:30, June 6th at 7:30, and June 7th at both 2:00 PM and 7:30.

The cast members are: Raul Aranas as Fagin, Anthea Neri as Nancy, Bonale Zohn Fambrini as Oliver, Whit Lee as The Artful Dodger, Scott Watanabe as Mr. Bumble, Mel Sagrado Maghuyop as Bill Sikes, David Shih as Mr. Sowerberry, Tony Romero as Dr. Grimwig, Connor Johnston as Noah Claypole, John Haggerty as Mr. Brownlow, Virginia Wing as Mrs. Bedwin, Cindy Cheung as Widow Corney, Kendyl Ito as Bet/Old Sally, Fay Ann Lee as Mrs. Sowerberry and Rebecca Lee Lerman as Charlotte Sowerberry.  In addition, the Ensemble members are Whit Lee, John Yi, Allen “Lucky” Weaver, Jeffrey Wei, Rommel Pierre O’Choa, Loresa Lanceta, Robyn DeGuzman, Shoba Narayanan and Jung Kim. Fagin’s Gang is comprised of Matthew Chan, Sarah Chiu, Zoe Eng, Emerson Fok, Justin Lai, Derek Lee, Isabel Ma, Stanley Ng, Eden Rolle and Phoebe Young.  The Orphans and Fagin’s Pickpocket Gang are played by James Ignacio, Michelle Lu, Selina Ng, David Ning, Julia Rosenburg, Kirsten Shyu, Emily Gu Siegel, Aaron Zheng and Tina Zheng.

Tickets and more information can be found here:  http://www.naaproject.org/

Here are the cast members in rehearsal.  Enjoy!

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