Oliver! At Secret Theatre in LIC

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A dozen ragamuffins in torn striped shirts and grimy faces hunch over their morning’s gruel. One bold boy asks for more. It’s Oliver! And this is Secret Theatre’s “steam punk” version of the beloved musical.

Another sell out audience is bustling with adults and children. It’s Friday night and some tired little ones lean on their parent’s shoulders. They’re still wide eyed in amazement. Adults are equally mesmerized. Every seat is just a few feet from the action. Every actor’s gestures and facial expressions are easily seen.

Director Lenny Banovez has utilized the music, sets and cast to beautifully balance nightmarish 19th century London with the character’s hopes for a better life. As Oliver, Amanda Dupuy’s voice is clear and strong for “Where is Love?” Bailey Seeker as Nancy faces the audience and really delivers “As Long As He Needs Me.” Wonderfully wicked Fagin (Richard Mazda) is fiendishly fascinating with his solo, “Reviewing the Situation.”

Swaggering Bumble (Haley Selmon) and Widow Corney (Anna Grace Carter) indulge in a funny flirtation with “I Shall Scream.” We meet more dirty denizens of the street including the Artful Dodger (John Alden Hooper) dressed in a filthy striped top hat and tails. Nancy’s sister Bet is well played by Melissa Joiner. Then there’s terrifying criminal, Bill Sikes (Gregory Isaac). His violent scenes at the play’s climax still send shivers down my spine. Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Michael Lee Jones, Hannah Dowdy) provide a very haunting dance for the song, “It’s Your Funeral.”

“Consider yourself at home. Consider yourself one of the family” are among the most enduring lyrics from this musical classic. In fact, the children make their presence known from the very start with “Food, Glorious Food”. Many young adults, right out of college, give strong performances as well.

Clearly, the show benefits from outstanding behind the scenes support. Musical Director Dror Baitel and his small band are downstage in the shadows. They play tirelessly all evening. Excellent choreography by Nicholas Sotack, costume design (Becky Willett), scenic design (Jasmine Nicole Roberts), lighting design (Dan Jobbins) and stage management (Shana Ferguson) very capably optimize the relatively small performance space.

The Secret Theatre and its multiple performance complex is located at 44-02 23rd Street in Long Island City. For information on future performances call (718) 392-0722 or surf to www.secrettheatre.com. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.