A Dickens Classic for the Ages
A Review of 'Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist,' in Madison
By MICHAEL SOMMERSr | The New York Times
The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s current production in Madison offers a vigorous rendition of the play adapted by Neil Bartlett in 2004 from Dickens’s enduring 1838 novel about an orphaned boy.
Mr. Bartlett is a deft hand at reinventing classic literature for live performances. (His new adaptation of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” began previews at the Abbey Theater in Dublin last week.) The playwright’s version of A Christmas Carol has been a holiday staple for the Shakespeare Theater in past seasons, and in Oliver Twist, Mr. Bartlett again displays his proficiency with page-to-stage transformations. Click here to read more.
Shakespeare Theatre's 'Oliver' is gloomy but good
By C. W. Walker | the Daily Record
The program for Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," now on stage at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University in Madison, says that actor Jeffrey M. Bender is in his 13th season with the company. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Bender is one of those dependable character actors who makes the most of supporting roles and delivers a performance that livens up every production he’s in. I remember encountering Bender for the first time back in 1999 when he played one of the ghoulish street cleaners in Tennessee William's "Camino Real." Bender is a big guy with a toothy grin and a quirky sense of humor that he uses to good advantage. He can be silly one moment and menacing the next.
No Ordinary 'Oliver' Takes Shakespeare Stage
Production company stages dazzling adaptation of Dickens' classic.
By William Westhoven | Madison Patch
In the hands of director Brian B. Crowe, a master at staging physical movement, Bartlett's dazzlingly entertaining journey extends to the theater aisles. He runs his cast through quick costume changes and frequently marches them in and out of the room through the lobby doors, so much so that the audience is occasionally tricked into thinking they are outnumbered by the players.
The result is a marvelous theater experience that surrounds you with almost too many pleasures to take in at once. Pay attention to the dialogue and you might miss the clever scene changes in the back. Watch the actors hitting their countless marks, flipping tables into poster beds, and you may not fully appreciate a gut-wrenching monologue. And if you have an aisle seat, keep your feet in front of you. Click here to read more.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey breathes new life into a Dickens tale
By Jonathan Elliott | The Princeton Packet
We've all absorbed the story in one form or another, either via the original serialized novel or the 1960 musical Oliver! by Lionel Bart. In mid-19th-century England, a good-natured orphan boy grows up in a workhouse, only to end up cast out and pinballed around the dregs of society after asking for a little extra gruel one evening. Crowe takes what could be a simple morality play and infuses it with an assembly of actors capable of startling transformation. The cast shifts and rapidly tells the story from scene to scene like a flock of ravens, swirling through roles and reconfiguring as needed. And it’s in this sensibility that we really see the versatility of the company, particularly Jeffery M. Bender and Robbie Collier Sublett. Bender flips from a gut-busting drag bit as the over-the-top Mrs. Sowerberry into a frightening and electric presence as the monstrous Bill Sikes; Sublett’s straightforward charm as leader of the troupe and central narrator flows seamlessly into his turn as The Artful Dodger. This Oliver Twist is a workout for the company, and it’s a good deal of fun to just watch as characters transmogrify into yet more characters throughout the evening. Click here to read more.
BWW Reviews: The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey CHARLES DICKENS' OLIVER TWIST
By Gregory G. Allen | Broadway World
The cast all have moments to shine playing the thirty different characters in the show - sometimes through acting moments and other times through playing instruments and singing. I was particularly taken with the performance of Robbie Collier Sublett, the narrator to the piece and wonderfully nuanced Artful Dodger. We are privy to a performer who shares such warmth and admiration not only for the orphan boy but also for the story he discloses. And his amazingly well thought-out Dodger is one only a seasoned performer could demonstrate. Each sleight-of-hand trick he performs or glance he gives to the other 'lost boys' shows a Dodger that goes well beyond the top hat on his head. The title role is played by the adult Quentin McCuiston with a wide-eyed wonder, fear of the unknown, and gentleness that is palpable. Dickens refers to Oliver as angelic many times in his writing and McCuiston carries that beautifully. Many productions show Fagin as a con-man comic with a heart of gold. Longtime company member Ames Adamson gives a performance like no other I've seen. Multi-layered, unafraid to show the evil streak in the man - and yet somehow make us feel for him by play's end (which by the way sticks right with the book instead of the award-winning musical version). Click here to read more.
A CurtainUp New Jersey Review:
By Simon Saltzman | CurtainUp New Jersey
While many of us are familiar with Lionel Bart’s popular, frequently produced musical version, there is no lack of musical punctuations of the a capella variety throughout the play, a disarming conceit that has been a part of this production since it premiered at London’s Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in 2004. At first, the almost jocular tone of this production, under the faster-than-a-speeding bullet direction of Brian B. Crowe, may be a little disconcerting to purists, but all I can say is "get over it."
For those looking for dreary, it is performed in a superbly dark (terrific atmospheric lighting by Andrew Hungerford) and inhospitable unit setting designed by Brian J. Ruggaber, a makeshift workhouse that nicely accommodates quick transitions to many locations. What is most commendable about Crowe’s direction is the nice balance he achieves between the lurid, grisly staged events and the often laugh-worthy characterizations. With a cast of thirteen performing a myriad of roles, there are quite a few standouts. Click here to read more.
REVIEW: A Breathtaking "OLIVER TWIST" at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey STNJ
By Ruth Ross | The News Record
It is refreshing that Neil Bartlett has turned his adaptation skills to Oliver Twist, a novel more familiar to modern readers through the stage/film musical by Lionel Bart. If that's your only experience with Dickens, I suggest you get on over to the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey where a very inventive production graces the Main Stage through October 7. While this literate and faithful version of the iconic tale of an orphan boy who is lost and finally found may not send you to the library, you will experience a thrilling evening of theater. Click here to read more.
Ahhh-Liver! Twist, That Is, Now at STNJ
By Sherri Rase | Q On Stage
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s latest production is the highly anticipated Neil Bartlett adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” Directed by the visionary Brian B. Crowe, this darkly dazzling production takes us into the gritty heart of the 99% in Victorian England. When it was originally published, as a serial, Dickens doled out soupçons of sinister salaciousness. STNJ’s production, part of its gala 50th season, displays the dark humor and vigorous human spirit in every fiber of the production. Click here to read more.
Impressive adaptation of 'Oliver Twist' at Shakespeare Theatre of N.J.
By Rick Busciglio | Examiner.com
The greatest writer in English fiction after Shakespeare is unquestionably Charles Dickens. Three of his most memorable characters are Fagin, Bill Sykes and The Artful Dodger, villains all, from one of Dickens' most famous books....Oliver Twist, of course. Oliver Twist was Dickens' second novel published in 1838 and is, and was, an important work that highlighted the many social ills of Victorian England particularly the cruel treatment of children. The story and the characters based in part on Dickens' own early youth as a child laborer are as familiar to us as any work of fiction ever written. Our memory and appreciation of the story has been further enhanced by the fact that Oliver Twist has been the subject of several film and television adaptations, both British and American, and is the basis for the highly successful, but sanitized, Lionel Bart musical play and the multiple Academy Award winning 1968 movie version. Click here to read more.
New "Oliver Twist" Plays Takes Searing Look at London's Criminal Class in the 1830s
By Bruce Chadwick | History News Network
With the legendary demand, the latest stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' scalding novel Oliver Twist was off and running at the regional Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, where it opened on Saturday. This majestic new version of the play, adapted by Neil Bartlett and based on Dickens book, with quite a bit of Oliver!, the 1968 musical adaptation thrown in for good measure, casts a troubled eye on labor conditions in British workhouses for boys in the first half of the nineteenth century. Click here to read more.
New 'Twist' on a classic -
Non-musical version of Dickens novel has NJ premiere
By Bill Nutt | The Daily Record
The production that opens at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey on September 12 does NOT begin with a hoard of urchins singing the praises of “Food, Glorious Food.”
The kids hiding in the London sewers will not regale a newcomer with a cheery “Consider Yourself at Home.” Fagin will not urge his young charges to “Pick a Pocket or Two,” and Oliver Twist will not plaintively croon, “Where Is Love?”
In short, this is not “Oliver!” the beloved award-winning stage musical that became an Oscar-winning film in 1968. Click here to read more.
SHAKESPEARE THEATRE STAGES DICKENS' "OLIVER" - WITH A TWIST
By Robert Carr | Discover Jersey Arts
One director, Two act, 13 actors, 35 scenes, 50 characters, 100 costume changes - This is the challenge at the feet of the cast and crew of Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of “Oliver Twist” at Madison’s Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.
When you go, don’t expect to hear bouncy renditions of “Consider Yourself” or “I’d Do Anything.” The roughly two-hour dramatization, which requires a tight ensemble to sweep through a parade of roles, is Charles Dickens at his sooty best.
The theater has a celebrated history of reinvigorating the classics and this production is up to the challenge. An orphan’s search for love and family amidst the brutality of Victorian England’s Industrial Age is a fitting tale for the theater’s 50th anniversary season, titled “The Art of Impossible Dreams.” Culture Vultures’ Robert Carr sat down with director Brian B. Crowe and actor Jeffrey M. Bender (who plays six roles, including the menacing Bill Sikes and even Mrs. Sowerberry) to chat about the demands, rewards and complexities of presenting this masterwork. Click here to read more.
Oliver Twist at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
By Janine M. Torsiello | Morris Beats
The first fall show of the 50th anniversary season of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, "Oliver Twist," opened this weekend. Brian B. Crowe directs this Neil Bartlett adaptation of the classic story by Charles Dickens at the theater, which is on the campus of Drew University in Madison.
Those familiar with different versions of the story, most especially the 1968 musical film, will find this an interesting and refreshing look at this tale. It has some humor and charm but it also has a kind of brutality, which is more true to the original Dickens novel. This really makes the play feel new even though it is a often told tale. Click here to read more.