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Performing Arts

Oklahoma City Theatre Company's staging of 'Oliver!' hits a snag

None December 9th, 2010

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday,
2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Through Dec. 19
Oklahoma City Theatre Company
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker

Oklahoma City Theatre Company's production of "Oliver!" is the most misguided show seen on city stages in years. It shouldn't be. It has some great show tunes "” which aren't listed in the program, an inexplicable omission "” and a terrific story, an adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist."

It's hard to understand what director Deborah Draheim is trying to do with the show. First, she has cast 12 children "” mostly girls, some very young "” as Fagin's gang. When all 12 were onstage at the reviewed performance, parents in the audience whipped out flash cameras and snapped away. This rude behavior continued for most of the first act. It was worse than a PTA talent show. Where were the announcements about no photos and the ushers to enforce it?

Second, a 30-member cast is way more than needed in the Freede Little Theater, and the actors are mostly untrained and inexperienced. What little dancing is in this production comes from the hop-skip-and-a-jump school of choreography.

Third, and most objectionably, OCTC has adopted an abominable practice that one fears is a cancer growing in city theater: the canned orchestra. No live musicians are employed. The accompaniment is played over loudspeakers. It's a disturbing trend. Why? It sounds horrible and is almost never in balance with the singers, contrary to principles of live theater.

As playwright Edward Albee said in a speech at Oklahoma City University a few years ago, drama is the only literary art form that takes place in the present tense. The actors are in the room with the audience, and the action takes place in real time. This goes for musicians, too. This presence is the advantage theater has over film. You know that films are a lie, because they took place in the past and someplace else.

It's odd that OCTC would stage two big musicals in the same season, having opened with "Cabaret." Musicals are expensive to produce, but skimping on the orchestra is unacceptable. All they need is a piano and someone to play it. Add a string bass, and you have a combo with a foundation. Add a horn or two or a violin, and you have an ensemble.

It's disheartening to see OCTC make this misstep. What vision do artistic director Richard Nelson and the board of directors have for the company? If they want to present substandard, amateur productions for family members of the casts to admire, fine. But they should tell the public what they are doing, and then we can decide if we want to go. "”Larry Laneer
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