Oliver! Got Steampunk’d!
Hennepin Theatre Trust and Theater Latté Da collaborate once again to present Lionel Bart’s Oliver! live on the Pantages stage now through March 1st. This show marks the third anniversary of Broadway Re-Imagined, a collaboration which brought us the masterpiece that was Cabaret in 2014. Although the repertoire has varied greatly, Latté Da Artistic Director Peter Rothstein consistently takes these well-known musicals and transforms them, through inventive sets, costumes, and technical aspects into an entirely new experience for all theatergoers.
Oliver is no different. The musical, remembered best by the 1969 movie, is set in 1830s Victorian England. However, Latté Da “re-imagined” this setting by creating a hauntingly beautiful “Steampunk” universe in which to experience the story of Oliver. Steampunk fuses design influences of the 19th century British Victorian era with gritty, steam engine-inspired, modern punk culture. Think the industrial revolution in a post-apocalyptic world. Although pretty farfetched from the actual look of 19th century England, the polarity of influences in steampunk effectively represent the polarity in social classes that appears in Oliver! The Victorian era aspect represents the higher class (seen in songs such as “Who Will Buy?”), whereas the gritty, futuristic aspect represents the vagabonds and tramps who live “underground” (seen throughout most of the show in characters such as Fagin, Nancy, and Bill Sykes). Costume designers Christine A. Richardson and Alice Fredrickson, as well as set designer Rick Polenek create a believable world in which corsets, lace, and Victorian paintings exist alongside dreadlocks, purple hair, and gears.
As is customary, every talent in Oliver! is incredibly dynamic and entertaining. Local favorite Bradley Greenwald portrays the conniving, closeted sweetheart, Fagin. His performance, which includes magic, amplifies the show to new heights from the moment he steps on stage. Greenwald is able to find the devil and angel within Fagin, creating a complex character that keeps the audience constantly on their feet, both with interest and applause. Every move is made with intent and complete understanding of the character; nothing feels forced or unmotivated.
If an incredible front-man wasn't enough, Fagin is backed by Fagin’s Gang: the group of orphan boys who have been taken in by Fagin to be trained in the “art” of pickpocketing. The performers include acrobat Sam Kellar-Long and adorably professional fourth grader Alejandro Vega. At about half as tall as the other boys, Vega stands out the moment they enter, and keeps our attention as he provides a performance well beyond his years. The Artful Dodger, played by Alec Fisher, present another of these performances. With some of the most impressive vocals in the show, Fisher performs with refinement and maturity, believable of an orphan who has had to raise himself. Although not specifically mentioned, every other performance in the show is as impressive, from the 30 piece Minnesota Boy Choir ensemble to the Beadle who sells Oliver, played by James Ramlet. And let us not forget the new talent Nate Turcotte, playing Oliver himself.
Although missing a few elements available to bigger theaters, such as a full orchestra, Theater Latté Da’s Oliver! tells the beloved Dickens story through beautiful, innovative design and talent. From the use of ethnically diverse casting to black and white Helena Bonham Carter hair, there is nothing not inventive about this production. Rothstein yet again creates an immersive, original experience for everyone who attends.