Book and Lyrics by Gila Sand, Music by Paul Leschen, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
Kraine Theatre, New York
Review by Philip Fisher
A musical based on Oliver Twist? Didn't Lionel Bart do one of those? He surely came up with a feelgood show called Oliver for all of the family that has become perennial Christmas TV fare.
One is tempted to suggest that Twist might better have been entitled "Twisted", is the antithesis of the earlier version with an emphasis on the darker aspects of the novel and many themes that Dickens can never have dreamt of.
In summary, this is like a sex show from some trendy S & M bar, with the acts loosely linked by the story of an orphan who is adopted by a criminal "family" but finds happiness with a sweet, rich and very aristocratic lady.
Many of the elements of the novel are there but all are subverted and then set to the spooky music of Scissor Sisters' keyboard player, Paul Leschen, who may be the anonymous player on the night.
Oliver is played by Reymundo Santiago, a man equally at home singing, acting, submitting and dancing, though he seems most comfortable with the last two.
After asking Mr Bumble and his grotesque matron for more - possibly porridge in this case though punishment is also a constant, he soon finds himself wandering the streets. There, he is picked up, no other phrase is appropriate, by Dodger and housed by Fag-in.
In the criminal's den he learns to thieve but also to please his two androgynous masters. Brian Charles Rooney, who plays the Dodger, had already made an appearance as the matron, while Garrit Guadan's Fagin is a transvestite of exceptional allure.
This ménage a trois believes in strict discipline and the household is completed by sinister Bill Sikes and the woman who is obliged to call him Daddy, Nancy. Luis Villabon, a man with black hair reaching beyond his shoulders and his cellphone number in the programme, is a constantly sneering Bill, while Denise Estrada makes a pretty, very sexy foil, as well as having an attractive singing voice.
After death and the police intervene, Oliver eventually finds a little happiness with Lady Downlow (Laura Carbonell Smith), who like all of the other characters is delighted to pervert the young boy.
Gila Sand, who both adapts and directs, has set out to create a controversial piece of theatre and succeeds. At times, Dickens' story seems to play second fiddle to the desire to titillate and also allow the performers to showcase their varied talents.
However, for the right audience, possibly looking for a way to spend their mid-evening prior to a night of debauched entertainment, this could prove just the ticket.