Oliver! picks a pocket or two of audience praise

Howard Salinger as Fagin

Howard Salinger as Fagin - Credit: Archant

Consider Yourself to have been very fortunate indeed to be in the audience last week when St Albans Operatic Society (SAOS) put on the classic musical Oliver!

For the operatic society, soon to be renamed St Albans Musical Theatre Company, are renowned for the zeal with which they throw themselves into productions and this was no exception.

Lionel Bart’s Oliver! is one of the most-loved musicals with practically every song well known and a cast of characters from Victorian London who have become household names.

It also relies heavily on youngsters and the boys who took the parts of Oliver and the Artful Dodger as well as the inmates of the workhouse and Fagin’s gang were first rate.

On the night I went Thomas Wilkins was Oliver and Lewis Elliott, was Dodger, roles they shared on other nights with Alexander van Weezel and Archie Stevens respectively.

While no-one would argue that the boys stole the show, there were some marvellous adult performances as well, belying the old adage, never act with children or animals.

Tony Bradburn’s Mr Bumble and Debby Connor’s Widow Corney were a delight - from their “courtship” to his days as a hen-pecked husband shortly after their nuptials - while Widow Corney’s fierceness was matched by Susan Akroyd as the domineering Mrs Sowerberry in the undertaker’s parlour.

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Jamie Ross was a villainous Bill Sykes but the two undoubted stars were Howard Salinger as Fagin and Emma Stratton as Nancy - which is probably as it should be because both are such key characters.

Howard had the rascally Fagin down to a fine art and his rendition of Reviewing the Situation, accompanied by an exquisite solo violin from the orchestra, was pitch perfect.

Emma’s Nancy was full of joy despite her relationship with Sykes and when she first sang As Long as He Needs Me, I felt shivers down my spine.

As usual, the operatic society had completely transformed the Arena stage - take a bow stage manager Chris Rook and his crew - which was no small task in the time they had to put it together.

And the man at the helm, director Rob Milner, might never have been away even though his last turn in the director’s chair for SAOS was in 2003.

Mention must also be made of musical director Philip Joslin and choreographer Joyce Smith, both of whose efforts ensured that in their last performance as an operatic society, SAOS kept their standards sky high.