There are certain shows about which one can only say that "if you like
this kind of show, this is the kind of show you'll like." For a classic
example, take The Rocky Horror Show. Or, for an example currently
running at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, take Gila Sand and Garrit Guadan's Twist. Loosely based on Dickens'
Oliver Twist, the pop-rock musical follows the erotic adventures of the
titular orphan boy, searching for love in a world where he is only
wanted for his body.
If you loved Lionel Bart's Oliver!,
odds are you'll wince at Twist. While the 1963 musical bordered on treacle, Twist revels
in its campiness before veering off--
far too late-- into more earnest drama. And, sadly, it doesn't really
work. While the idea of Oliver not meaning food when he asks for "more"
is funny once, the joke wears thin when stretched out over an hour.
When the second hour rolls 'round, the silly plotting and scheming of
the first-half turn deadly serious, and the comedy dissolves into
melodrama, leaving the show awkwardly unbalanced. Had Sand focused on
either the camp or the drama throughout, the whole piece might have
been more cohesive.
songs, by Paul Leschen and Ms. Sand, are largely generic pop songs that
humorously comment on the BDSM and gender-bending themes, but do little
to further the plot or the character development. The evening's best
number, "Slip Away," is a wistful little sigh of a song that nicely
expresses the fleeting nature of happiness for the down-and-out. Few of
the other songs, cute though they may be, reach its level, and tend to
simply drag out what is, essentially, a one-joke show that could
probably work just as well as a play.
As Oliver, Reymundo
Santiago is appropriately pretty, and sings well, but is easily
overshadowed by the rest of the more colorful characters. As the
cross-dressing Fagin (and, briefly, Mr. Sowerberry), co-writer Guadan
is gorgeously androgynous, aptly conveying his character's ambiguous
morality, though he seems to have taken many of his cues from Tim
Curry's Frank N. Furter. Travis Morin's Dodger is as poignant as he is
charming, letting his sexy smile betray just a hint of his character's
love and loneliness. Amanda Sasser shows some great comic timing as the
shoe-obsessed (yes, in that way)
Lady Downlow, and Shoshanna Richman and Jason Griffith are given far
too little to do as Nancy and Bill Sykes, respectively. Gila Sand's
direction is sharpest during the funnier moments; when the scenes
become poignant, they tend to lose steam and fall somewhat flat.
Dickens probably never imagined drag divas, bondage, shoe fetishes and dream ballets when he wrote Oliver Twist,
and it is truly amusing to revisit the classic with these new-- ahem--
kinks added in. Perhaps with another revision, the humor and drama will
be better balanced. Until then, this is the sort of show you'll enjoy
if you enjoy this sort of show.
Photo Credit: Reymundo Santiago as Twist with Garrit Guadan as Mr. Sowerberry (photo by Ben Correria)