The Canebrake Players’ Oliver!

Cast members of The Canebrake Player’s production of Oliver.

Mistreated malnourished child labor, kidnapping, thieving for a living on the mean streets of Victorian London and not one but two on stage deaths should have the average theater goer leaving in tears…but with The Canebrake Player’s summer production of Oliver! audiences left the building laughing and humming show tunes.

If a consistently packed house and two sold out performances are any indication, the production was a resounding success.  Local audiences turned out in droves to see the musical, some being asked to return for another showing as the theater had been seated to capacity.

Local artist Lynda Ray did a spectacular job with the set decoration, creating a back drop mural of the city of London that set the gritty tone of the play.

The Children’s Chorus of work house boys with their smudged faces and drab attire were a delightful treat as they opened the show streaming on stage through the audience singing joyfully of the gruel they were about to receive.

Jones Colgrove, cast in the production’s title role, was the picture of the pining waif when he plaintively and sweetly sang “Where is love”, Oliver’s signature song.  Colgrove also played quite the imp against Tristian Mullen’s imperious know it all Noah Claypole.

Cooper Boggs was dashing and more than sufficiently dodgy as The Artful Dodger and most likely could have charmed half the audience into joining him in a life of pick pocket crime.

John Brown’s Mr. Bumble was authoritative and hilariously haughty until rendered low by Laurie Willingham’s wile and cunning Widow Corney.  Brown’s professional singing experience was evident throughout the play and his comic timing was impeccable.

Drew Tucker and Gillian Walters were delightful as the wacky undertaker and his even wackier wife.

The role of Nancy was played by two area actresses, Kelley Jordan of Livingston and Laura Clements of Demopolis, both ladies gave stellar performances. Jordan nailed a streetwise Nancy with a heart of gold, doing her best to do right in spite of her circumstances.  Clements’ vocals were remarkable, showing an exceptional range from the sad strains of “As Long As He Needs Me” to the bawdy “Oom-Pah-Pah” and not missing a beat in between.

Garrett Baker’s choice to play Bill Sykes with a Scottish brogue was spot on.  He oozed menace and Baker’s Sykes is no man you’d want to meet in a dark London alley way.

Mike Baker and Cyd Boland were perfect pillars of calm stability in the storm of Oliver’s adventures as Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin and Johnny Johnston’s Dr. Grimwig was the proper prescription for a chuckle.

Fagin, played by Charles Walters, and his band of sneak thieves and pick pockets were a crowd favorite.  Walters’ Fagin was a special blend of comically creepy nefariousness and endearing whimsy and the band of children playing Fagin’s boys were lovable in their mischief.

The chorus was seamlessly integrated into the principal players’ action and broke down the 4th wall to move amongst the crowd during “Consider Yourself”, encouraging the audience to join in with the song.

All in all, a job well done by The Canebrake Players under the direction of Jody Tartt, who rose to the task of coordinating an unprecedented cast and creating a production of grand scope.

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