The British musical "Oliver!" opened in London in 1960, and on Broadway in 1963, where it received Tonys for Best Scenic Design, Best Original Score and Best Music Direction. The play has endured in the prevailing 50 years, thanks to the award-winning score and the opportunity for memorable characters to come to life on stage.
Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre, as usual, did not miss a chance to portray each character with verve, and deliver each song and dance number with energy and originality in its current production at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. The cast of children may have been the draw for an audience of appreciative youngsters on opening night who joined in a standing ovation at the end of the evening.
The voice of Trevor Gomez rang true as the innocent boy was introduced rudely to life on the streets of London but he showed gumption as he escaped from one set of exploiters to another. Max DeSantis stole every scene he was in, playing the Artful Dodger, an adolescent worldwise con artist; his cheery countenance was a pleasure for the audience -- if not for his onstage victims -- to behold.
Julia Etzel portrayed the faithful Nancy, a wonderful character despite her appalling taste in men. Her rendition of "As Long As He Needs Me" probably didn't convince anyone that Bill Sykes was worthy of her, but her voice delivered stunning vibrato in this song as well as "It's a Fine Life," "I'd Do Anything" and "Oom Pah Pah," sung with other cast members.
Paul Plain presented a fascinating Fagin, the leader of the gang of boy thieves, who tries to accumulate enough booty to retire. His physical comedy made the old crook likable.
The entire cast and crew -- with producer Kathleen Breedveld, director John Baiocchi, musical director Cary Litchford with his 12-piece orchestra, and choreographer Todd Aragon -- made the production the quality performance we have come to expect from TVRT. Even the youngest children looked like old pros who enjoyed belting out the lively numbers.
Unlike the bowl of thin gruel at the orphanage, "Oliver!" was immensely satisfying.
This weekend is the last for "Oliver!" at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. For more information and tickets, visit www.trivalleyrep.org or call 373-6800.