“Oliver!” at Theaterworks Westside

“There are no small parts, only small actors.”
So goes the old adage used by countless directors to coerce countless actors into accepting small roles. Big egos often require lots of lines and lots of stage time, and the prime spot in the center of the stage during the curtain call. There is not much glory in being “Man #1,” or “Old Woman #4,” yet where would we be without them?
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’…Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble are necessary…(and) upon these we bestow more abundant honor.” (1 Cor. 12:21-23)
In the world of theatre there are two classes – professional theatre and community theatre. We pay big bucks to see a Broadway musical and we rightly expect eye-popping special effects, glorious music in acoustically perfect halls, independently
mic’ed actors so we don’t miss a single word, grand sets, and impassioned performances. When the final curtain falls we demand to be compelled to rise to our feet in a thunderous standing ovation. Honor to whom honor is due.
Then there is community theatre – the “Man #1” and “Old Woman #4” of the acting world. While some community playhouses
are well established, with huge community support and at least adequate, if not sumptuous, operating budgets, most manage
to hang on by sheer force of will; jury-rigging sets together with spit and baling wire; requiring their actors to provide their own
costumes; competing for audience with “Eight Legged Freaks” and the local PeeWee baseball tournament. Honor to whom
honor is due.
Theaterworks Westside, a 1-1/2 year old establishment in Dickson, Tennessee is a poster child for community theatre. With the
proximity of Nashville’s TPAC, and Dickson County’s Renaissance Center, it would be easy to ignore Theaterworks Westside
as a redheaded stepchild. Under the leadership of Tina Romine, Theaterworks Westside is a delightful little theatre, nestled in
the countryside on the outskirts of Dickson. Carved from the remains of an old warehouse, the facility has character and charm
if not acoustics. In their second season the spunky little-theatre-that-could is mounting such ambitious productions as “My Fair
Lady,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Steel Magnolias,” Guys & Dolls,” and their current production, “Oliver!”
I went to “Oliver!” because the son of a friend was in it (not the best reason to review a play; it does tend to skew your
objectivity). I did not expect TPAC quality. Nor did I expect to be bored. I was right on both counts. “Oliver!” had its problems.
The sets, although obviously constrained by budget, were nonetheless serviceable, and Fagan’s lair was both suitably creepy
and warmly charming. The costumes were inconsistent. The music suffered by being limited to a single piano (bravely and
competently played by Chuck Nall), and the choreography was virtually non-existent.
Yet the production still delivered on its promise to entertain, precisely because there were no small actors. Each actor
appeared to believe their character was an integral part of each scene in which they appeared, and to the show as a whole.
Particularly noteworthy were Trudy Wallace as the alternately wicked and seductive Widow Corney, Chuck Burgess as Mr.
Bumble, Austin Ward as Noah Claypole, Leo Sochocki as Fagan, Tom Whiting as a believably violent Bill Sykes, and Parker
Ramsey as the innocent, trusting Oliver.
The biggest surprise was the quality of the vocalists. “Oliver!,” known for such hits as “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider
Yourself,” and of course “Who Will Buy This Beautiful Morning,” is anything but simple, and the cast simply nailed the songs.
“Oliver!,” produced by Theaterworks Westside was a successful example of community theatre; a community of volunteers
pulling together to ‘put on a show!’ They are not the big leagues. They are not the minor leagues. Like most community
theatre they are in a league of their own. And they deserve more abundant honor.
“Oliver!” runs through July 21st. For reservations, call 326-0382.


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