When it comes to musicals based on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, an audience is unlikely to confuse Twist, the new musical written and directed by Gila Sand, with Oliver!, Lionel Bart's better known version. This is primarily due to the fact that Oliver Twist in Oliver! is considerably younger and not an S&M fetishist trying to escape from a brothel/opium den run by a transvestite in order to live happily ever after with a woman who has a shoe fixation. The other giveaway, if one is needed, is that Oliver!, though saccharine sweet, is consistent in tone and much better written.
That's not to say that Gila Sand is a bad writer. Indeed, in Twist she has written, in effect, three different shows. First a titillating parody of Oliver Twist, full of gay hustlers, drug addicts, cross-dressers, and compulsions of every stripe. Second, a rather earnest adaptation of the more moving portions of Dickens' text. And finally, she and composer Paul Leschen have crafted a cabaret-worthy set of songs inspired by, though completely independent of, the story. Any of these would be good on their own, however, Sand has created a theatrical chimera – parodic until that no longer suits, earnest after that, and broken up by songs that stop the action dead in its tracks. While Twist has its moments, moments just aren't enough.
The cast of Twist has
its share of top-notch actors and singers. Reymundo Santiago, the sexually precocious Twist, has an innocent face with
a sly smile that sets the proper tone for the naughty parts of this play. In addition,
he is a graceful dancer and has a lovely voice. Travis Morin plays his Artful Dodger as a cocky Cockney, all sex
and style. He's allowed to show some range once the show turns earnest, letting
Dodger's vulnerability show. Also notable is the sadly underutilized Shoshanna Richman as
The music in Twist is good, though as previously mentioned, it does little to move the story forward. It ranges from bubblegum pop, as in Dodger's 'Sucker,' a song that really isn't about lollipops, to the achingly touching 'Slip Away.'
Twist has some clever ideas and some funny and touching scenes. But until Sand settles on a unifying tone for the play, or brings in a director who is not as tied to the script as she is and can form a cohesive whole, the play will not reach its full potential.
(Twist featured Jason Griffith, Amanda Sasser, Andrew Sneed, Martin Gould Cummings, Lee Cavellier and Jake Lemmenes. It also featured pianist Phillip Kirchner.)
Copyright 2007 Byrne Harrison
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