The Carnegie Arts Center’s Oliver! has a fine pedigree of its own — a first-class pit, a sweet-voiced young star, a seasoned pro in the key role of Fagin — and nearly wins a place in our hearts. But this production has bigger problems than a misplaced bit of jewelry. Somehow, despite obvious hard work on an epic theater piece, director Gina Kleesattel and company have lost the story. Who are these people? What do they want? What’s driving them to the often desperate actions they take? As the Artful Dodger might say: It’s a licker to me.
Lionel Bart’s musicalization of Charles Dickens’ novel necessarily simplifies the orphan’s tale, shrinking the time frame and reducing dozens of eccentric supporting characters to a handful of stock figures.
Musical director James R. Cassidy and members of the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra elevate this Oliver! with every number — but what happened to the overture? I suspect other cuts were made for the sake of a kid-friendly running time. More imaginative and strategic scene changes would have better served that cause, while drawing a more vivid, believable world in which the elusive Oliver Twist might be found.
OLIVER!, presented at the Carnegie Arts Center in Covington, continues through Dec. 27. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.