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Lionel Bart's "Oliver" is forever young


John Morrison & T.J. Langston share the title role of Oliver at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Baltimore

With a three month run, two very different boys, John Morrison and T.J. Langston, are happy to share the title role of OLIVER so they can have time to just be kids. 

A Conversation with John Morrison and T.J. Langston:

Q:  Do you get nervous being on stage?

A (John):  I don't really get nervous anymore since this is my third play at Toby's.  In my first show I was Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol" and then Chip in "Beauty & the Beast."

A (T.J.):  I must admit I sometimes get a little nervous, but at those moments I just tell myself to be confident and do my best.

Q:  Why do you want to be in a play?

A (John):  Being on stage allows me to express myself.  It's a great feeling!

A (T.J):  My mom, sister, brother, and uncle were all on stage.  They all have faith and confidence that I can follow in their footsteps. 

Q:  How did you rehearse with both of you playing the same role?

A (John): I would perform in 2 or 3 scenes and then T.J. would perform in the next few scenes.

A  (T.J):  During dress rehearsal we would take turns; one night I would play Oliver while another night John would play Oliver.

Q:  How are you like Oliver in real life?

A (John):  I'm always up for adventure!

A (T.J):  I never give up and I stand up for my rights.

Q:  How do you manage getting your homework done and performing in Toby's night after night?

A (John):  That question gets asked a lot!  When I get home from school I immediately do my homework.

A (T.J):  On Mondays, I try to complete as much of my homework for the week as possible since there is no time during the show.

Q:  What do you like to do besides acting?

A (John):  I like to play piano, video games, baseball and fencing.

A (T.J):  I like to play on my computer and watch sports like lacross, football, and tennis.

Q:  What is your favorite scene in the show to perform?

A (John): The dark moments are fun to play, especially the fight scenes.

A (T.J.):  The musical number "Consider Yourself" and of course hearing the applause during curtain call!

Photo Credit: Kirstine Christiansen


Expecting to remain at the theatre until 11pm, I was pleasantly surprised by the running length of the show which let audiences out around 10pm.

With minor cuts from the script and the deletion of some song reprises, Toby's presented a dinner theatre, family-friendly version of the Charles Dickens classic.

Penning the play, music, and lyrics, Lionel Bart's songs are memorable and tuneful. 

Even if you haven't seen the musical before,  Bart's song, "Food, Glorious Food" is a part of pop-culture, heard on TV commercials like "Cheese Glorious Cheese" for the American Cheese Industry and in the trailor of the recent animated movie, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball" where a re-edited version of this song is played when the food starts raining from the sky.  It is even sung in the animated movie "Ice Age:  The Meltdown."

Unfortunatley for Lional Bart, OLIVER was his one and only hit musical.  TWANG (1965) was a notorious flop and LA STRADA (1969) lasted an embarrasing one performance on Broadway. But perhaps most heart-breaking, besides his addiction to LSD, was his bad business decision to sell all rights to OLIVER in order to finance his future musicals.  This was a bad decision considering Bart was earning an estimated 16 pounds a minute during the time of the motion picture release of OLIVER!

Sometimes you can just feel when something is high-quality.  This is the case with David Bosley-Reynolds' performance as Fagin, the conniving career criminal who takes in homeless boys and teaches them to pick pockets for him.

Tall in stature with eyes that are able to open as big as tomatoes grown with Miracle Grow, Mr. Reynolds, is able to bring out the comedic side of the character while being able to dig deeper with moments of self-assessment as in the song "Reviewing the Situation" where he is "finding it hard to be really as black as they paint." 

In contrast to the comedic villain Fagin is Bill Sikes, a burgler who is feared around town and is Nancy's abusive lover.  Make no mistake, Alan Hoffman is successful at portraying Bill Sikes, the vicious character whose abuse of power eventually leads to the most criminal act of all, murder. 

Part of what makes Hoffman so convincing is his deep, no-nonsense, gruffy speaking voice.  Also, sometimes his lack of emotion when abusing Nancy can be spine-tingling, knowing that Sikes has no remorse.

Photo Credit: Kirstine Christiansen

Because I've been going to Toby's ever since I was a little boy, I have come to expect live music.

This is part of Toby's own philosophy (and I heard her personally say this to me) that "This is live theatre.  Everything must be done live.  This includes a live orchestra."

So I was surprised that the orchestra was only comprised of "OrchExtra," a synthesizer-like device and one lonely reed.

While "OrchExtra" may be played live like an organ, the synthesized instruments are no match for the pit of 4 to 7 musicians that audiences have been spoiled with throughout the years. 

The opening song, "Food, Glorious Food," sounded more like an arcade video game soundtrack rather than the large orchestral sound intended.  What is more, the music was sometimes out of sync with the voices of the actors.

Understanding budget cuts, I would have preferred just having a live piano and drum, rather than the obtrusive "OrchExtra." 

Of course any successful production of OLIVER weighs heavily upon the actor who plays the title role.  John Morrison was up to the task as Oliver Twist, the lonely orphan boy born in a workhouse. 

Part of the success of his performance is due to the fact that he came across as a real boy who was put into difficult situations.

John and the rest of the energetic cast performed just as strong at the end of the show as they did at the beginning.

Using that energy, the cast brought to life such classic songs like "Consider Yourself," "Where Is Love," "Pick A Pocket or Two,"  "It's a Fine Life," and  "I'd Do Anything."

Kudos to the director Shawn Kettering and choreographer Tina Marie DeSimone for using the Baltimore space well, including having the actors play to the audience on the sides and even bringing some of the action into and through the audience.

Thanks to productions like Toby's, OLIVER will be forever young!

TICKET INFORMATION:  Now playing through June 6th.  Call 1-866-99TOBYS or visit

PRODUCTION CREDITS:  Book, Music & Lyrics by Lionel Bart, Based on the novel OLIVER TWIST by Charles Dickens, Directed by Shawn Kettering, Musical Direction by Reenie Codelko & Pamela Wilt, Choreographed by Tina Marie DeSimone, Scenic Design by David A. Hopkins, Costume Design by Jannie Sunday, Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin, Sound Design by Corey Brown, Artistic Direction by Toby Orensten

CAST:  John Morrison, T.J. Langston, David Bosley-Reynolds, Aviad Bernstein, Zach McKinney, Maria Egler, Alan Hoffman, Andrew Horn, Daniel McDonald, Tina DeSimone, and Nick Lehan

Performing Arts Reporter
Baltimore Examiner



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