Thursday, November 7, 2013

REVIEW: Prairie Ground's "Oliver" Glorious

Prairie Ground Drama opens the musical Oliver! November 7.

The PGD run is November 7,8,9 and 14,15,16 at the Prairie High School Auditorium and features Skyler Verity as the Artful Dodger, introducing Micah Foster as Oliver and starrring Ashlee Waldbauer, Austin Foley and Tristan Decker.

The show was directed nicely by Claire Verity. As expected, the students did a smashing job. We are especially excited to see Ashlee Waldbauer again, not to mention Skyler Verity and Austin Foley, too. The production featured a large cast, including a bevy of grade school students from the district.

It's a Fine Life

The primary cast of PGD's "Oliver."
The show, based on the Dicken's novel Oliver Twist, is a British musical, with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, and is slightly depressing for a musical, but has several rousing songs.

After running away from the orphanage run by the heartless Mr. Bumble, Oliver meets the Artful Dodger and is recruited to pick pockets for Fagin. There, Oliver finds a friend in Nancy, but neither she nor the boy are fit for a life of crime.

Consider Yourself

The cast seemed a genuine family of fine performers. Vocal talent varied across the board, but was generally good. I was only slightly disappointed in that Micah Foster's (Oliver) vocals, which slid around a bit and were at times sharp or flat, though his vocal quality is quite nice. He's a good little actor, too.

Vocal standouts were many, and, really, all the cast did well. I will mention but a few of the leads first. Here goes: Ashlee Waldbauer as Nancy, Austin Foley as Bill Sykes, Julie Anne Chambers as Charlotte, Skyler Verity as The Artful Dodger, Tristen Decker as Fagin, and Sarah Demsky as Bet.

We were especially blown away by Ashlee Waldbauer, Austin Foley and Skyler Verity as much for their singing as for their exceptional acting. We have followed the trio for some time and they get better and better all the time.

The roles were great ones for all three, but I think it was Foley who really has risen to great heights since we first saw him as Mr. Big. Of course, Waldbauer nearly stole the show; I see a genuine star being made.

Tristen Decker was also wonderful in his role as Fagin--the singing, dancing and character quite well done--but he just didn't look the part (not crusty enough). The acting chops were good all around and most delivered excellent British accents of their class, and kept them throughout the show while speaking and singing--probably due to dialect coach, Margaret Carr.

Ashlee Waldbauer as Nancy.
Again, Foster, in his first role, was full of charm and spunk. I especially enjoyed the character roles of Alexa Millage-Fox as Widow Corney and Jared Lingle as Dr. Grimwig. And Matthew Dougal and Shanice Moore as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (the undertakers) were funny and quite nice together.

Ensemble role standouts were: Mallorie Mendoza, Julie Anne Chambers, Rachel Hogan, Carson Verity and the sweet, little ball of smiles and energy Hannah Loyd. Mendoza, Chambers and Hogan each had their shining moment, but I was particularly impressed with Hogan's performances in "Who Will Buy."

Skylar Verity as
The Artful Dodger
I must mention that I was also struck by the actors discipline. A couple of things went awry (a set piece broken, a dropped prop) and the business was attended to in character. I will also mention that I didn't see the need for the distracting dog. Stage Management was handled well by Anna Stickney.

The choreography, by Clair Verity, was, once again, quite good, though didn't approach PGD's production of "Singing in the Rain." Some of the dance numbers were a bit complex and mostly modern musical theater in style (no tap or ballet), others were simpler, but charming none-the-less.

You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two

Production values were, for the most part, top notch. The costuming, by Verity and others, was great! The set design, by Verity, was good by all standards and particularly good for PGD. Their best yet! I liked the unit design and use. Props, by Terry Maupin were also rather impressive. Maybe there's a little more money this year?

Lighting, by Anne Stickney and Verity, was well executed, but with a few shadowy areas around the edges. The orchestra, under the direction of Joseph Accuardi-Gilliam, did quite well. Kudos are also due Darcy Schmitt for music and vocal direction.

Who Will Buy?

Well, I think YOU should. This is good theater, folks. The doors at Prairie High School open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts promptly at 7 p.m. Adults $10, Seniors $8, Students $5. Ticket may be purchased at

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler.
Photos, by Michael Verity, provided.


ALSO, the MPAA production of "Oliver" runs November 15-17, 2013 right on the heels of the PGD production. It will play at Portland's Winningstad Theater (where director Noah Scott says its cheaper than renting a space in Vancouver). Presented by MPAA’s Musical Theatre Program students, all ages. There are three shows only! Friday, November 15, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, November 16, 7:30 p.m.  and Sunday, November 17, 2 p.m.

Tickets: $14.25 Children (12+ under and Seniors 62+), $16.25 Adults online booking and service fees will be applied using PCPA's secure seat selector.

Winningstad Theatre, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland, Oregon.

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