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“Oliver!” is a Dickens of a show at Crown Center

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KANSAS CITY, Mo —

“Who Will Buy” the sunny, upbeat musical version of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” the grim tale of an orphan raised in a wretched 1830s English workhouse? Fans of strong musical theater, that’s who.

Musical Theater Heritage’s entertaining and drum-tight concert-style production is just the latest in a long line of competent adaptations the company has mounted at the Off Center Theater in Crown Center.

Director Sarah Crawford has brought together a large ensemble of talented performers who inject a lot of energy into Lionel  Bart’s musical revision of  Dickens’ melodramatic chestnut. Bart’s expressive score includes toe-tapping anthems as well as heart-wrenching ballads, all performed with aplomb.

Young Jordan Haas plays the title character, and the lad is blessed with a bell-like voice that wrings tears on the touching tune, “Where is Love?” Fisher Stewart is equally good as The Artful Dodger, welcoming Oliver into the world of petty street crime with the rousing, “Consider Yourself.”

The play’s most colorful character is undoubtedly Fagin, the cunning leader of a gang of adolescent thieves. Kip Niven brings him to vivid life through songs like. “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.”

Shelby Floyd portrays Nancy the barmaid who is forced to decide whether to help young Oliver or to remain true to her abusive and underhanded lover, Bill Sykes (Samn Wright). She delivers the power ballad “As Long as He Needs Me” with the belting force of a woman who has seen it all.

Jeremy Watson’s taut band and Shane Rowse’s crackerjack lighting are a big help, too.

But Crawford’s razor sharp direction is the real reason why “Oliver!” is so successful. The MTH shows are performed script in hand at music stands, using minimal props and costumes. But Crawford stages the proceedings so skillfully that it hardly matters. Sets? Who needs ’em?

While that other Dickens play, “A Christmas Carol,” can be seen down the road at Kansas City Rep, “Oliver!” proves to be an equally diverting holiday treat.

“Oliver!” runs through December 21st at the Off Center Theater in Crown Center, 2450 Grand, Kansas City, Mo. Ticket information is available at http://www.mthkc.com or by calling 816-545-6000.

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