"Oliver!," through Aug. 6 at Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre; running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission). For tickets, visit http://ufomt.org/.
LOGAN — When the curtain came up and Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre’s “Oliver!” began, I was a little too critical for all of 30 seconds. The choir girl in me came out as I sat there thinking, “Oh, that person’s slightly off key” or “Goodness, they didn’t cut off together.” Immediately following these inner remarks, I thought to myself, “What is wrong with you? These are adorable little boys!”
The opening number of “Food Glorious Food” set the audience smiling, chuckling and nodding their heads to the beat. The 17 young boys, handling parts and choreography quite well, got incredible applause, especially considering it was only the beginning of the musical.
Lionel Bart's musical is based on Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and details the story of Oliver, an orphaned workhouse boy who runs away from the workhouse, is caught up in a group of pickpockets and is eventually reunited with his wealthy grandfather.
The words "sweet" and "lovable" kept coming to mind as I watched the main character of the musical. From the moment Jace Salcido spoke the immortal words “Please sir, I want some more" in his Cockney accent, I knew that one, he was perfect for the role, and two, I wanted to adopt him. Seeing that the second thought will not likely come to pass, I’ll stick with the first.
Salcido demonstrated particular skill for being only 11 years old. His voice — sometimes on the quiet side but assisted with some tweaking of the microphones — was a pure and innocent soprano that you would expect for Dickens’ character. Salcido also met all of his cues perfectly.
Cameron Conrad, a product of UFOMT’s Youth Conservatory, stood out as the Artful Dodger. His performance had such energy that you would want to jump up and dance with him.
“Oliver!” also showcased some amusing comedic duos in A.J. Glueckert and Vanessa Schukis as Mr. Bumble and Widow Cornery and Kevin Nakatani and Laura Quest as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry. Their dialogue and duets kept the audience giggling.
Most impressive was a barely recognizable Michael Ballam as the conniving Fagin. Ballam, who’s also the founding general director of UFOMT, anchored the large cast of varied characters and multiple kids. His performance of “Reviewing the Situation” was especially entertaining, and he had the accent and old-man demeanor down pat.
The set was exceptionally eye-catching. It looked like it had come straight out of a storybook. Scene changes were smooth and the pace of the plot was even, but the ending felt a little rushed. The villain of the play, Billy Sykes, kills his girlfriend Nancy, gets killed by the police, and Oliver is reunited with his grandfather in a matter of seconds. While it’s nice that they didn’t dwell on deaths for too long, there was almost no recognition of Sykes’ death. Once Oliver was in his grandfather’s arms, everything was immediately OK and the mood of the show was a happy one. The shift seemed a little abrupt.
Aside from its hurried conclusion, “Oliver!” is about kids and certainly for kids. It’s a choice selection for family-friendly entertainment, and the audience was not at all disappointed with the interpretation of this musical based on the Dickens classic.