Oliver! reviews

John Burland, Dine Direct
18 November 2008

If there is a better amateur group in the UK than Leeds AOS then I have yet to come across them.

I know I have said it in the past but although they have the word amateur in their title, this company is truly professional in their performances. And their latest offering, Lionel Bart's Oliver is a truly spectacular show with some outstanding principal performances, great chorus numbers and brilliant choreography. The plaudits for the show must go to Louise Denison, director and choreographer who certainly gets the best out of all her performers and Jim Lunt, the musical director, who ensures that his orchestra is always sympathetic to the performers’ needs and that they are never drowned by the music.

On the night I saw the show, the part of Oliver was played by Jed Berry from Leeds and I thought he was wonderful.  His diction was spot on and his renditions of ‘Where is love’ and ‘Who will buy’ will have the mums and grandmas in the audience reaching for their handkerchiefs. Jed and Connor Phillpson from Bradford are sharing the performances throughout the week and the company assures me that Connor is equally as good.

The musical of Oliver has come to prominence this year through the TV series I’d do anything and I am sure that Jacqueline Bell who plays the role of Nancy would have been amongst the finalists if she had auditioned for this, as her portrayal of Nancy was superb. Her renditions of ‘It’s a fine life’ and ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’ were brilliant, whereas ‘As long as he needs me’ can only be described as outstanding.

But the outstanding performance of the show as far as the principals are concerned has to be that of Phil Hopkins in the role of Fagin. Ron Moody, eat your heart out! This performance was on a par with the archetypal performance in the film from 40 years ago. Humour in ‘Pick a pocket’ and ‘Be back soon’ was superbly contrasted by the poignancy of ‘Reviewing the situation’.

Notable performances from the minor principals were Paul Rooks as Bill Sikes, Kia Rika-Rayne as the Artful Dodger, Society Chairman Mike Porter as Mr Brownlow, John Haywood as Mr Bumble and Jane Robinson as Widow Corney. John and Jane certainly provided good humour in their duet, ‘I shall scream’.

As usual, the LAOS chorus was outstanding with some excellent singing and choreography in ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Oom Pah Pah’ and ‘Who will buy’, and the youngsters shone in ‘Food, glorious food’, ‘Pick a pocket’ and ‘Be back soon’.

I am not surprised to hear from the company that they have 94% ticket sales for the week, as their reputation goes before them, and this can only be further enhanced by this particular production. I am greatly looking forward to their next two productions of Mel Brooks' musical ‘The Producers’ in May 2009 and then an old favourite ‘The King and I’ in November next year.

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