It's all there -- the sooty buildings, the sunless streets, the cockney rabble, and the little boy who committed the cardinal sin of asking his orphanage turnkeys for some more gruel ("Please, sir, I want some more"). It's all there in the traveling production of Lionel Bart's 45-year-old musical Oliver!
, that is, minus a lot of the grace, the wit, and the emotion of the original. Be warned. It takes a crack sound system to deliver all the twisted vowels and dropped consonants of working-class Brit English, and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts tends to let down its miked actors. The result is bobbing heads and whispered complaints in the audience and a lot of blank looks when Bart's clever lyrics should trip merrily along (or at least, that's how it was opening night). Still, the powerful story breaks through. Renata Renee Wilson as the doomed Nancy is a heartbreaker when she sings "As Long as He Needs Me," her paean of loyalty to her abusive boyfriend, the scary Bill Sikes (Shane R. Tanner). Young Colin Bates as the Artful Dodger, Oliver's nimble, slippery, pickpocketing friend, is an electric presence every time he takes center stage. Mark McCracken makes the despised Fagin a self-doubting, three-dimensional character, though his nuanced, Hamlet-like soliloquy, "Reviewing the Situation," seems especially vulnerable to sound distortions. Ryan Tutton plays Oliver as sweet and unobtrusive, an innocent embedded in a rough street scene; he has a tendency to disappear into the background, not surprising considering all the rough, bawdy humanity around him. Adrian Vaux's sets capture the oppressive gloom of post-industrial London (the society that made Marx a Marxist), with just enough space for little fires to break out from time to time. (Through February 20 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-462-0222; then March 8-13 at the Jackie Gleason Theater, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305-673-7300, and March 15-20 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, 561-832-SHOW) -- Edmund Newton
Who knew a large production could be enjoyable on a smaller scale? Curtain Call Playhouse's valiant effort for its first musical is a fast-paced evening of pop musical favorite Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the biblical tale of Joseph (Jarrod K. Gac), whose gift of a multicolored coat sets a course on jealousy and greed. The young man is betrayed, attacked, and imprisoned, but it's the retribution that will create many a devotee. Director Ed Meszaros' indefatigable cast of 25, move from scene to scene with quick changes of costume, including Egyptian pleated skirts and headdresses, modernized for different numbers. The music, with its disco, calypso, and Cuban mix, will leave you humming. Almost every song is a showstopping turn, notably Gac's "Close Every Door," a tenor's dream ballad, and "Song of the King," sung by the Pharaoh (Jon Peterson) as Elvis. Despite a poor sound system and a dearth of lighting at the Herb Skolneck Center, an energetic group of young actors out to steal your heart triumphs in the end. (Through February 19, Broward Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, and February 26-27, Oakland Park Elementary School, 936 NE 33rd St., Oakland Park, 954-784-0768.) -- Alan Saban