Northern Colorado dinner theater does justice to a classic

As theatrical standards go, it’s tough to top Oliver! — one of the world’s most well-known musicals that’s been doing the rounds since 1960. There’s a reason shows stick around this long, and a good story is generally at the heart of it.

Based on Charles Dickens’ 1837 novel Oliver Twist, the musical by Lionel Bart is a stripped-down version that hits the novel’s highlights with well-known musical numbers like “Consider Yourself” and “Food Glorious Food.”

It’s also good to remember that a new generation has yet to see Oliver!, and this new production at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is a good one. Besides, shouldn’t iPhone-clutching kids get to see what it was like when a bowl of gruel was dinner and fun and games were non-existent?

For those who may be unfamiliar, the Candlelight is a large dinner theater located about 50 miles north of Denver in Johnstown. Its neighbors are truck stops, RV dealers and oil rigs, but inside is a well-run theater operation, now in its 11th season, serving up Broadway hits to packed houses. They do a nice job with every show I’ve seen there, and Oliver! is no exception.

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Shows with a lot of kids in them are no simple thing to mount, and Oliver! has quite a few of them. The cast numbers in the 30s, many of them children, but director Shannan Steele and choreographer Bob Hoppe did fantastic work getting them all moving in the right direction. The musical numbers are enormous, and that many mixed-aged voices singing together gives Oliver! a depth that few musicals can approach.

I don’t know that this is the largest production Candlelight has ever done, but it’s got to be one of them. It’s also got a strong live orchestra led by Phil Forman.

Standouts in this show include a nice turn as the evil Bill Sykes by David L. Wygant and Charlotte Campbell as the unfortunate Nancy. Kent Sugg played Fagin with a complex mix of emotions appropriate to a character who’s never quite sure where his heart lies. Axel Manica does a nice job as the wiry Dodger, and Eli Emming portrays Oliver as more of a delicate, tortured soul than scrappy street kid.

Since it’d been some time since I’d seen “Oliver!,” I was somewhat struck by how dark it is. The musical certainly sands off some of the rougher edges, but there’s no sugar-coating child cruelty, street crime, domestic abuse and murder. We may think of this as a family-friendly show, but parents might consider whether kids under 10 or 12 should see this one.

Oliver! plays at the Candlelight through May 26.


Candlelight history

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