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‘Oliver!’ dazzles in marvelous Drury Lane staging

Brady Tutt(center) stars as title character 'Oliver!' Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook. | Phoby Brett Beiner

Brady Tutton (center) stars as the title character in "Oliver!" at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook. | Photo by Brett Beiner

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‘OLIVER!’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When: Through June 2

Where: Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

Tickets: $35-$49

Info: (630) 530-0111; www.drurylane.com

Run time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission

Updated: May 15, 2013 6:23AM



As I headed off to the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre to see “Oliver!” a friend laughingly told me about a couple she knew who had named their kids Oliver and Annie, after two of the best-known orphans in both literature and musical theater.

Rachel Rockwell, the Chicago director and choreographer who may well be this generation’s counterpart to Jerome Robbins, and who is an acknowledged master at putting kids on stage, has now shown us the real inner workings of the stories that spin around both these “orphans.” Her reinvention of “Annie” last year at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre was a revelation. Now, her grand-scale, altogether glorious revival of “Oliver!,” the classic 1960 British musical with a Lionel Bart score that plays brilliantly on the Charles Dickens novel that is its source, seals the deal.

Frankly, you could leave Drury Lane in the most blissful, gobsmacked, fully satisfied state right after the show’s first big number, “Food Glorious Food” — in which a small army of orphans bangs spoons on bowls of gruel, and dances an extended, tremendously complex piece of choreography to delirious perfection. It is that wonderful.

But why would you even think of leaving? After all, you would miss the priceless moment when the famished Oliver Twist (Brady Tutton, with the delicate looks and angelic voice of an English choir boy) asks for “more.” You also would miss nearly 20 additional knockout numbers, each more intricate and original than the next, plus a slew of characterizations worthy of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

On top of everything, you would fail to see how shrewdly Rockwell, who always digs deep, has pulled together the story’s underlying theme of how the quest for love results in relationships that frequently grow deeply dysfunctional.

There is Fagin (John Reeger, in one of the finest performances of his long, distinguished career), the wily, money-obsessed man who serves as a “father figure” to a gaggle of street urchins. Led by that sassy little fop, The Artful Dodger (a spotlight-spinning J.D. Rodriguez), the boys work as pickpockets on the streets of Victorian London (gorgeously evoked by Kevin Depinet’s muscular set).

We later learn Fagin also was pimp to the good-hearted Nancy (Heidi Kettenring, a force of nature with a torch song voice to match), putting her to work when she was just a child. No wonder she is so locked into a masochistic relationship with the psychotically violent Bill Sikes (John Gawlik), and so protective of Bet (lovely Sophie Thatcher) and Oliver.

And there are other “couples”: Mr. Bumble (Michael Lindner in full comic form), the parish beadle who runs a wretched workhouse, and the not-so-prim Widow Corney (a terrific Catherine Smitko), as well as the hateful undertakers, the Sowerberrys (Benjamin Magnuson and Catherine Lord are a hoot).

There is jewel-like singing by the street sellers (Jennie Sophia, Rebecca Pink, Ann McMann), more galvanic dancing in “Consider Yourself,” and a sensational carriage ride dance in which the show’s 19 boy wonders dazzle yet again, with tiny, gymnastics-trained Matthew Uzarraga, grabbing your eye and your heart at every moment. Irresistible.

As for Rockwell, she will helm “Brigadoon” at the Goodman Theatre in 2014. But we already know she can cast magic spells.



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