I spent a good chunk of my Wednesday in the company of hundreds of children at the Scotiabank Convention Centre – and I’m happy to report it was an unexpectedly good time.
I was a guest at the Linus Hand Production of Oliver which just wrapped up a successful run at the Niagara Falls centre. So while I wasn’t there with the intention of writing a review, this show cried out for one.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had read one review of the show which wasn’t complimentary; not to gush but from start to finish the show was a delight.
It was filled with amazing performances by local children who were well-supported by a stellar cast of professional adult actors.
The mixing of children of limited acting and singing experience with a small cast of professional adults provides a surprisingly successful formula.
Linus Hand is the man behind a number of successful shows since bringing his talents back to Niagara several years ago.
And he is just getting started it appears.
But back to how this all happens.
Local schools are scoured for children with an interest and ability. Even if they are a student at Hand’s Young Company drama academy, they all must audition to secure a part.
And then the fun begins.
This show was turned around with just a few short weeks of rehearsals which took not only the dedication of the young performers but also of the countless parents who had to commit their time as well.
Anyone familiar with the musical Oliver knows that the roles require the performers to deliver a number of heart-felt solos as well as complicated choreographed dance scenes comprised largely of children.
At times there is only one adult on stage surrounded by any number of whirling children.
In the show I had the pleasure of watching, the part of Oliver Twist was played by Paige Hergott, a Grade 6 student at Prince Philip School. Erica George, a Grade 8 student also at Prince Philip, was cast as the Artful Dodger.
Although any number of performances should be noted, these two child performers stood out.
Paige Hergott has a powerful and lovely voice, and she injects it with longing as she delivers “Where is Love” as Oliver prepares to settle in to sleep in a basement surrounded by coffins.
Erica George was just plain fun to watch. Animated and playful, she sang and danced and delivered.
I was curious to see how the complicated dance scenes would be handled by this novice group, but it was quite seamless.
Among the adults, the performances by Karina Berghteyn as Nancy and Brian Duffy as Fagin were scene-stealingly good – if there is such a phrase.
Duffy’s Fagin emanated with his struggle to be good and his longing to be bad. As he sings and dances among his young proteges singing “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two”, he is delightfully wicked.
Berghteyn’s Nancy was strong and yet vulnerable — as the character should be. Her vocals were enchanting.
But I think Derrick Miller’s Mr. Bumble remains my favourite performance. His appearances are gems spread throughout the show and are most welcome.
Most telling was the way the audience was engaged. The place was packed with school children who were truly taking it all in.
Seriously, well done.
Niagara Falls Review