With the return of Annie to Sydney stages and Young Talent Time to our screens, it seems we might be entering another golden age of family fun in the arts.
Packemin Production’s Oliver! is family fun to a tee. Bringing professional and amateur performers together and presenting this big production in western Sydney is a brilliant idea. If you ever thought theatre just wasn’t accessible to families in Sydney, the most expensive tickets to Oliver! are only half the price of what you’d pay to see any major musical.
Oliver! will always be a great musical for kids and adults alike. It’s a true classic that will have you laugh one moment and cry the next. It’s the type of show that you leave the theatre humming, and Neil Gooding’s new production presents this show in all its glory.
They literally did ‘pack-em-in’ on opening night, performing to a sold out audience who cheered, laughed and clapped along to the reprise of ‘Consider Yourself’.
Leading the charge from the professional performers are Wayne Scott Kermond as Fagin, Todd Keys as Bill Sikes and Katie McKee as Nancy. Music theatre veteran Wayne Scott Kermond does what he does best. While he’s not the most natural fit for Fagin (and wears a pretty poor bald cap that gets a few laughs when revealed), his pure showmanship and comic timing get the audience well on side. He plays some moments purely for laughs, but had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
Katie McKee is a fine Nancy – strong voiced with great spirit. Her joyous performance of ‘It’s a Fine Life’ is a definite highlight. Todd Keys is suitably menacing as Bill Sikes, leaving the younger members of the audience shaking in their seats.
But the massive young ensemble, lead by Damian Hempstead as Oliver and Jake Woodhead as the Artful Dodger, come close to stealing the show. Hempstead’s ‘Where is Love?’ is truly beautiful.
The quality of the sets, choreography and musical direction is rarely seen outside of the city, and this is the strength of this production. It’s making professional, quality theatre accessible and probably introducing some new audiences to the world of musicals.
On opening night, sitting in front of me were two young children who spent the whole two hour plus show sitting still, quietly staring at the stage with massive smiles on their faces. When they returned from intermission they were excitedly talking about how the sets worked, the story and the orchestra. I’m sure that’s the way most people fall in love with the theatre as kids. The magic and wonder that it can inspire should never be underestimated.
All in all, Packemin’s Oliver! is a great production of a great musical with some great performances. Take the whole family. They’ll be thanking you for weeks!