‘Oliver’ shines at Spreckels
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By Jud Snyder  August 22, 2014 12:00 am

“Oliver” can be called a gigantic slice of music and dance theater drenched in the late-19th century flavor of Charles Dickens and unloaded on the huge main stage at Spreckels Performing Arts Center like a three-ring circus, oom-paahed along with a pit band down front, heard but not seen. Never has the Spreckels stage been so crowded with so much talent. 

It’s fortunate the nearly 50-member cast had an extravagant multi-level set designed by house staffers Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bassano then built by the backstage crew. It had more doors, stairs and platforms than an Ikea warehouse and was capped by an antique train steaming down the tracks. Hansen also designed the lighting, a key element in this glorious production with so many soloists and dancers deserving the spotlight.

The homeless kids living on the grimy streets of London are all members of the Spreckels Summer Youth Workshop. They probably spent a summer of prepping for “Oliver,” led by director Denise Elia-Yen. Choreographer Michella Snider led this youth ensemble in their vibrant routines, and of course they all had marvelous voices.

The adults interacting with the kids all had familiar names such as Fagin, played by Tim Setzer, the evil teacher of the gentle art of picking the pockets of unwary victims, the villainous Bill Sykes, played by the very tall Zachary Hasbany and very handy with a truncheon in his grasp, and of course Oliver Twist, begging for a second helping of gruel, who was on stage in nearly every scene.

Playing Oliver is such a huge job for just one person, play director Gene Abarvaya had two actors for the role. Opening night was handled by Andrea Luckens, an 11-year old girl, who shares the burden with Jordan Martin, about the same age. Both are members of the summer workshop. So is Ari Vozaitis, who has the juicy role of the Artful Dodger.

Abravaya convinced Kelly Brandeburg to take on the key vocal role of Nancy. She’s a professional with many credits in Bay Area theaters. Incidentally, she’ll be returning to Spreckels Saturday, Nov. 1, in “My Favorite Barbra,” a tribute to the songs of Barbra Streisand.

It’s impossible to give credit for more cast members, there are just too many to list in this space assigned to me. But we just can’t omit the pit band, led by director and keyboardist Janis Dunson Wilson. Ten professional musicians, deep in the pit at stage front, were thoroughly in synch with the busy production up above them.

“Oliver” has what they call “good bones.” Written by Lionel Bart, it won awards on Broadway and was made into a 1968 movie directed by Carol Reed and earned five Oscars that year including Best Picture. Its presence at Spreckels as directed by Abravaya once again proves our Rohnert Park theater stands head and shoulders above any so-called neighborhood theater in Sonoma and Marin counties.

You can see for yourself. “Oliver” runs weekends through Sunday, Aug. 31. Tickets are $26 and less and the box office is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. or one (588-3400) hour before curtain times.

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