By Christine Maxted
The second annual musical collaboration between Prince William Little Theatre and the Manassas Symphony Orchestra is a remarkable example of synergy in the arts community. Both organizations have brought their unique talents and resources to create an unforgettable theatrical experience of Oliver! With book, lyrics, and music by Lionel Bart, Oliver! is the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Oliver! first appeared on West End in 1960, on Broadway in 1963, won the 1963 Tony for Best Original Score, won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Picture, had three West End revivals, one Broadway revival, and recently played for a limited run at the New York City Center.
Set in the Victorian era, the story revolves around the orphan boy Oliver (Mauro Manganello) who endures a series of trials as he navigates an impoverished and criminal-filled London. After escaping a workhouse and an abusive apprenticeship, Oliver meets a boy known as the Artful Dodger (Avery Heisey). It is always difficult to expect young actors to carry a full-length musical, but Manganello and Heisey are more than up to the challenge. Manganello perfectly embodies Oliver’s initial innocence and naivety, which encapsulate Oliver’s persona. The beauty of his angelic vocals moves the audience to tears in his first solo, “Where Is Love?” Heisey delivers a perfectly mischievous “Consider Yourself” with effortless, focused vocals that it’s no wonder that Oliver follows Dodger to Fagin (George Fulda). Fulda delights as the infamous thief and gang leader who epitomizes the drive to survive by using children to do his dirty work. Properly balancing his deceptive personality with comedy, Fagin makes it easy for the audience to forgive all his faults
Despite the influence with the nefarious criminals, Oliver’s inherent kindness and goodness remain intact throughout the show. Through encounters with the cruel Bill Sikes (Pat Mahoney) and kind-hearted Nancy, Oliver faces many tribulations while searching for love and his place in an unkind, unforgiving world. Jolene Vettese shines as a matronly Nancy who utilizes her beautiful mezzo vocals to devastating effect in “As Long As He Needs Me” to show how her abuse by Bill Sikes has destroyed her mental and physical well-being. Pat Mahoney delivers a terrifying Bill Sikes and convincingly mirrors a three-dimensional sociopath pulled from today’s headlines.
The adult and child ensembles take on a variety of roles throughout Oliver! Standout featured performances include the young, energetic Bet (Madelyn Regan), the comical Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Wilson Johnson/Cecilia Zugel), and the corrupt Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney (Chris Anderson/Samantha Fulda). Beloved tunes such as “Consider Yourself,” “Oom-Pah-Pah,” and “Who Will Buy?” are masterly sung and danced by both ensembles demonstrating the creativity and hard work of choreographer Brianna Galligan and music director Veronica Miller.
The gorgeous multilevel fixed set designed by Nicholas Mastrangelo and Mia Villani utilizes multiple staircases and levels, suggesting the complexity of this Victorian London. The set brilliantly encompasses the orchestra and elevates them center stage, clearly displaying the musicians as fixed characters in the musical. Similar to current Broadway productions, Prince William Theatre ensures not only that the orchestra is visible but that the musicians are fixed characters in this production.
The 30-piece costumed orchestra members were provided by the selected Manassas Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Jim Villani elicits a rich and vibrant sound from his players. From the delicate strings, brass fanfares, and soloists, the orchestra flawlessly interprets Lionel Bart’s score. Their technical virtuosity and ability evoke a range of emotions through their nuanced and expressive playing.
Other technical elements that deserve recognition include Ken and Patti Crowley’s lighting design. The duo’s usage of LED fixtures and intelligent movers creates dynamic color palettes and dramatic effects. In addition, their effective use of shadows and focused spotlights guides the audience’s attention to key moments and characters onstage. The beautiful costume design, led by Ann Martin, is an intricate display of Victorian-era fashion, capturing the essence of Charles Dickens’ original novel. From the ragged attire to elegant gowns, each costume reveals the characters’ social status and personality. The meticulous craftsmanship is evident in every piece and successfully transports the audience to 19th-century London.
Through extensive rehearsals and meticulous coordination, Prince William Little Theatre and Manassas Symphony Orchestra have successfully merged their respective art forms to create a seamless fusion of drama and music. By leveraging each other’s strengths and collaborating in a sophisticated manner, they have delivered a truly captivating performance that showcases the talents within their community. Director Melaine McCleerey bravely and successfully challenges the general belief that musicals display a picture-perfect world, void of pain and violence. Rather, McCleerey ensures that the work is honored as written, portraying the raw truth of an imperfect world. McCleerey’s Oliver! proves to entertain audiences, and it also provokes conversation.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes including a 15-minute intermission
Oliver! plays for one weekend only from July 14 to 16, 2023, presented by Prince William Little Theatre and the Manassas Symphony Orchestra performing at the Merchant Hall of the Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, VA. Purchase tickets ($35, $30, $25) online or at the box office.
Content advisory: Haze, depictions of domestic violence, child abuse, gunshot sound effects, alcohol consumption, strobe-like light effects. Recommended for ages 10+ but audience members of all ages will be admitted.
Christine Maxted serves as the theater arts teacher at Gainesville High School, a member of the Educational Theatre Alliance, and a member of the Critics and Awards Program (CAPPIES) steering committee. She has served as adjunct theater faculty for Northern Virginia Community College and as a guest lecturer at George Mason University. She holds an MA in Theatre Education.