City Center Encores! Sings Strong! in an Awkward “Oliver!” – Times Square Chronicles

Young boys are tossed to the front of the stage, like full garbage bags on a New York City street. It’s an apropos beginning, the young thrown away moments before they burst into a magnificently produced song about hunger, malnutrition, child labor, and physical abuse. All at the hands of almost every adult these boys meet in the New York City Center Encores! musically strong revival of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, the classic award-winning 1960 musical based upon the 1838 novel, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, a man who loved to write about such things time and time again. With music, lyrics, and a book by Bart, who subsequently penned the respectable 1962 hit, Blitz!, and the universal 1965 flop, Twang!! (note the two !!s this time. I guess they thought one was not enough), Oliver! was the smash hit of Bart’s career, giving him awards upon awards, especially once the show was turned into the Oscar-winning 1968 film of the same name. The cinematic word for Oliver! was “More“, or so says the trailer, yet I have very little memory of the film. It never really connected to me when I was younger, although I have slight memories of a kindly complicated Nancy (Shani Wallis) full of life and suffering for it, and the beautifully voiced young boy (Mark Lester) lost in the cold cruel world, but who knew he wanted more.
The same could be said of the revival at NYCC’s Encores! It’s gloriously performed, sung to the heavens with a spectacularly rich sound emulating from The Encores! Orchestra headed by music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Broadway’s The Prom) with stellar orchestrations by William David Brohn (Broadway’s Ragtime) and music coordination by Kimberlee Wertz (Broadway’s Almost Famous). Elevated high above the crowded underbelly of the poor and destitute children that we first encounter tossed to the edge of the stage, all before bursting into the memorable “Food, Glorious Food“, the remounting, by special arrangement with Cameron MacIntosh, sings out loud and clear. The number serves up a musical feast, chock full of songs that take you back, even when they make you a bit uncomfortable when you take a deeper dive into what this musical is all about.
But let’s, for the moment, put aside the awkward layers of child labor, starvation, and abuse, heaped upon these poor young boys by almost every scheming adult character on that stage, as well as Nancy’s problematic song of abuse, “As Long As He Needs Me“, gorgeously performed by a stellar Lilli Cooper (Broadway’s Tootsie) making us almost forget what she is actually singing about. She’s that good in the role. Instead, let us focus on the formula and the feast, that includes one messy complicated book that needs a really good cleansing before this show can have a modern return to Broadway. That and some restructuring all around to make the piece a smoother ride down memory lane.
Yet, all of the performers do their unbelievable magic with the material, which is particularly astounding knowing the quick turnaround of Encores! staging and the athleticism and skill needed to perform the choreography created by Lorin Latarro (Broadway’s Into the Woods). The cast uniformly finds all their flips, kicks, and moments to shine bright, even in the smaller parts and the more unfocused bits of traveling and transition. First off, there is the wonderful pairing of the despicable (and hilarious) Mr. Bumble and Widow Carney, played devilishly good by Brad Oscar (Broadway’s Mrs. Doubtfire) and Mary Testa (Broadway’s Oklahoma!), as well as the beautifully matched dasterdly funeral parlor owners, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (and Co.), portrayed wisely and wickedly by Thom Sesma (CSC’s A Man of No Importance) and Rashidra Scott (Broadway’s Company), who take over the stage with their delicious debauchery. Perfect work by some expert performers.
But they are no match for the feisty Oliver Twist, who is magnificently well-sung by Benjamin Pajak (Broadway’s The Music Man), as the young boy who never fails to stand up for himself, especially when he, famously, wants some more. He’s a tad stiff in the acting department, I’m sorry to say, but the musical and the book don’t really give him much to do beyond being the center peg for which all else revolves. Even when those wheels are pretty white umbrellas twirling the cast down the lane so beautifully.
Oliver, when not singing, is quite the passive character, for the most part. He responds and reacts, sitting on the sidelines while the adults do their dirty work all around him. That is unless he is standing up for his empty tummy or his dead mother’s honor. Then he becomes something quite proactive and aggressive. This is particularly true in the second act when he basically is haphazardly tossed around like a bag of potatoes from one evil man’s shoulder to another’s table, barely registering as anything rebellious or rambunctious in these wild moments. The book fails to take us through from one moment to another, faltering time and time again to give us a sense of emotional connection or an understanding of why and how bonds this strong are made. We just have to believe, as it goes forward, and accept, even when it doesn’t really add up.
The production doesn’t seem to know what to do with Oliver in the second half, nor does it know how to deal with the violent deaths of the lovely Nancy and the demon Bill Sikes, portrayed red and darkly violent by Tam Mutu (Broadway’s Moulin Rouge!), that happens up in the dark shadowy corners somewhat vague and clumsily. It’s here where the set, designed by David Rockwell (Broadway’s A Beautiful Noise), lit by designer Justin Townsend (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill) under the unfocused direction of Lear deBessonet (Encores’ Big River), with sound designed by Alex Neumann (Encores/Broadway’s Into the Woods), that Oliver! loses its footing and drive. The space seems to swallow up the action, expanding some moments while crowding in others. It’s only when Pajak gets the chance to vocally shine, as he does with his magnificently well-sung “Where Is Love?“, that nothing else seems to matter. And nothing else comes close.
The other highlight of the show, beyond the wonderfully convincing Cooper as the complicated but feisty Nancy, enters casually, strolling out from under the beams juggling a few handkerchiefs around like a traveling magician. In the well-orchestrated guise of Fagin, deliciously and wildly created by Raúl Esparza (Broadway’s Company; Encores! Off-Center’s’ Road Show), the conman feels like a friend and a foe all wrapped up in a bright long jacket, courtesy of some fine work by costume designer Sarafina Bush (Broadway’s Pass Over). His creation is something of a mystery and awkward confusion, and even though brilliantly entertaining, we wonder what all that fuss is about the jewelry box (thrown away so casually later on) or why he takes such an intital shine to the young Oliver, even with his loyal sidekick, the wonderfully delivered Artful Dodger, portrayed strongly by Julian Lerner (“Boys of Summer“), standing nearby and presenting Oliver up so caringly. The two bright jacket pickpockets are the first to give Oliver a sense of familial care, even as it feels quite quick and shady. But so much of this musical has that aspect, with numerous quick uncomfortable jumps to illogical conclusions. We just have to pick a pocket or two and join in the fun, or we will get left in the dust thinking about it all too much.
It’s a Fine Life” or is it for Oliver!? The music is pretty divine and gorgeously performed, with joyous dance numbers and sublime comic bits that delight and entertain. Esparza, Cooper, and especially Pajak do their damn best vocalizing and enlivening the material inside every song and dance. Yet, if Encores! was hoping this would become another Parade or, even better yet, something as successful as the Into the Woods Broadway transfer, I think they’ve been conned. Some work needs to be done, restructuring that structure that slowed this production down, and more importantly, some deft rewriting of that complicated book to remake Oliver! into some “food, glorious food“, and a treat that we will have no problem devouring. Hungry or not.

For more go to
The Glorious Corner
Doug Wright’s “Good Night, Oscar” Plays Well on the Broadway Stage
My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children’s theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I’ve seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I’d always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here’s two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last…so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who’s Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn’t or couldn’t remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to
De Filippo’s “Grand Magic” Amazes in a Sharply Constructed Sleight of Hand at Canada’s Stratford Festival
“Relapse” Musically Releases Some Compelling Voices in Our Heads
Thank-you again to Eli Marcus and the staff of Dave and Buster’s, at 234 West 42nd Street.
Eli Marcus
Eli was sending the concierge’s to the show The Shark Is Broken.
The producers of The Shark Must Be Broken, Eli Marcus and the general manager of Dave and Buster’s
There were lots of new friends to be made such as Carol Mennie, Caroline Rosado from the Hilton, Dinnella Collado from the Washington Square Hotel, Benjamin Maddy from Dave and Buster’s and Maddie of Benjamin Steakhouse Prime
This destination for sports enthusiasts, foodies, and arcade offers space, fun and some fabulous happy hour deals.

All across the multiple screens were football, basketball, and hockey games from across the sporting world. At the sports bar an impressive selection of drinks, including craft beers, signature cocktails await. I sampled some their tasty bites and was impressed.
Pretzel Dogs
To sooth your inner child air hockey and arcade games are waiting to be played.
Margarita and I playing for Make A Wish
If you are looking for entertainment they have a legendary Trivia Night with fantastic prizes.
Double Pepperoni Flatbread

BBQ Chicken Flatbread
This is actually a great place to throw your holiday parties.
Fire-Grilled Atlantic Salmon
Boneless Wings
Chocolate- and caramel-filled churros with chocolate and salted caramel dipping sauces.
I am so glad the Mayor of Times Square invited me to his event.
Margarita Parlionas and Eli Marcus
Mike Young‘s Night at The Ned takes place weekly in the members’ Magic Room space, and presented by Akiva. The next show is Sept 27th, and will be weekly thereafter. Past attendees and comedians have included notables like Michael Rapaport, TJ Miller, Jeffrey Ross, Chris Rock, Robin Thicke, and many more.


The comedians who joined the lineup on Friday, Sept 15th, to surprise the room packed with 90 The Ned members/guests (and a bevy of models), included the below. Attendees, inclusive of members, enjoyed custom cocktails, wine, beer and bottle service during the performance, and dined on cuisine from The Ned’s signature menu favorites. The show takes place in The Magic Room, an exclusive feeling lounge complete with a beautiful wooden bar,  featuring plush jewel toned velour seating, a red decor aesthetic, and ambient table lamps. It is the perfect setting for an intimate comedy show, complete with a stage, and a grand piano.

Photos Courtesy of Geoffrey Nurse/GN Studios for The Ned
You Gotta Believe , a New York City-based, national organization that focuses exclusively on finding permanent parents and families for older kids in foster care, hosted its 9th annual Voices: Stars for Foster Kids benefit concert at Town Hall in NYC, on Monday, September 18th.
Created and hosted by Stars In The House’s Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, the benefit concert featured special performances and appearances by Donna Murphy, Patina Miller, Adam Pascal, Sharon Catherine Brown, Javier Colon, Ta’Nika Gibson, Matt Gould, Norm Lewis, Griffin Matthews, Gracie McGraw, Krysta Rodriguez, Cody Saintgnue, NaTasa Yvette Williams, Bellamy Young, Andrea McArdle and Executive Director of You Gotta Believe Jennifer Pinder.   The evening was be directed by Brenda Braxton with music direction by Seth Rudetsky.   Other guests in attendance included: Jackie Hoffman, Our Lady Jay, Tom Cavanaugh, Juwan Crawley, Jackson Walker,  and others.
Special moments included: Bellamy Young sharing her personal story of being a foster child – and at 8-years-old identifying with the song “Maybe” from the musical ANNIE.   After she shared her touching story with the crowd at Town Hall, the original “Annie,” Andrea McArdle surprised Bellamy on-stage and sang “Maybe” to her. Also, actor & model Cody Saintgnue sharing his own story about of being in foster care and later adopted – and what his family means to him.  The “Voice” winner Javier Colon came on-stage to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – a song that reminded him of his childhood, to him.
Today nearly 400,000 children are in foster care in the United States, and every year as many as 22,000 youth will age out of the foster care system. Without the safety net of a forever family to provide the security and comfort most take for granted, these young people are left on their own to face a future filled with hardships — from lack of education to unemployment, higher rates of incarceration, poor health, early parenthood and homelessness. A staggering 20% of youth who age out alone will experience homelessness – that’s 4,000 homeless kids each year.
Due to the transformative work of YGB since 1995, thousands of parents have been trained to make an unconditional commitment to youth in care, over 750 families have been licensed as foster families after receiving training through YGB, and nearly 375 older youth have been adopted into families trained by YGB. YGB offers families perpetual support, including counseling and mental health services, to ensure permanency.
Created by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley in 2015, Voices: Stars for Foster Kids brings together the very best performers from the American stage and screen to raise awareness about the plight of kids in foster care, particularly those aged 10 and older who are in danger of aging out of the foster care system alone. Combining celebrity, music, and everyday people sharing their incredible stories, Voices: Stars for Foster Kids directly benefits YGB’s mission to find permanent families for older kids in foster care. Since its inception in 2015, Voices: Stars for Foster Kids has raised $3,392,300 for YGB.
For more information on You Gotta Believe, VIP tickets, and sponsorship opportunities, please visit
Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson / Getty Images for You Gotta Believe
G.H. Harding
WENNER TAKES A DOWN —Jann Wenner always speaks his mind and this week he may have overstepped just a bit. In an interview that ran in the New York Times about his new book called Masters, he quite openly said that there were no black or R&B artists in it, because they were not able to articulate properly. I know, I felt the same way reading that. Minutes later, he was let go by the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he helped start with Ahmet Ertegun way back in 1983.
Ahmet Ertegun
His Like A Rolling Stone autobiography book was quite an indulgent read last year, but Wenner has in the last several years suffered several health set backs and it was pointed out that he may not be in his right mind. Still, he should have spoken way more carefully. I’ve known Wenner for decades and trust me, he feels he’s way entitled, and that said, you can rest assured that there were dozens and dozens of people (and former employees) waiting to take him down.
The sad fact is that most of the accusations are true. That said, let’s face it Rolling Stone magazine in it’s heyday was a miraculous outlet for so much music and terrific journalism – from Ben Fong-Torres to Hunter Thompson and Jann himself .. it was distinguished. Now, he may have killed it all.
Rolling Stine magazine Monday posted this – essentially disowning his from the magazine: “Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019. Our purpose, especially since his departure, has been to tell stories that reflect the diversity of voices and experiences that shape our world. At Rolling Stone’s core is the understanding that music above all can bring us together, not divide us.”
Here’s the report from Deadline:
FILE – Drew Barrymore attends the Time100 Gala, celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world, at Frederick P. Rose Hall, April 26, 2023, in New York. The National Book Awards dropped Barrymore as the host for this year’s ceremony, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, a day after her talk show taped its first episode since the Hollywood writers strike began. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
DREW’S BLUES — Boy, what did Drew Barrymore ever do to deserve the treatment she’s been through with the media. Sure, her ideas to bring back her daily-chat fest was a good one, for the right reasons, but everyone from Rosie O;’Donnell to the trade papers have bounced on her like madmen. I never met her, don’t hate her, but really … let’s get back to something real, like these Russell Brand-accusations!
SHORT TAKES — We finally caught David Bryne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love and absolutely loved it. I remember it well when it premiered at the Public Theater way back when and knew they were trying to get it to Broadway. Honestly, I never thought twice about the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos story, but the play was riveting then and it remains now. They’ve outfitted NYC’s magnificent Broadway Theater with disco-balls galore and club-lighting and the immersive experience is terrific. Here’s a great re-cap of the play’s evolution from Theatre Guide:
Chris Carter and Micky Dolenz – Breakfast With The Beatles
Micky Dolenz appeared on Sunday’s Breakfast With The Beatles with Chris Carter (on KLOS) and talked about his new Dolenz Sings R.E.M. on Glenn Gretlund’s 7a Records. He also talked about his time with The Beatles and John Lennon. Carter also played a mash-up of Monkees and Beatle-songs which was done in England and it was superb. Here’s a shot from the event at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe on Highland and Hollywood Blvd. … SIGHTING: PR-pasha David Salidor and Benny Harrison at Monday’s Cutting Room tribute to Burt Bacharach … RIP Sammy Ash …
Jimmy Buffet
I’ve been thinking the best way to describe Jimmy Buffet and I saw this headline in LA Magazine: leisure evangelist– and it fits perfectly …
Happy Bday Donnie Kehr and Richard Branciforte.
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Dan Mapp; Brad Auerbach; James Clash: Robbie Robertson; Carol Ruth Weber; Randy Alexander; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Andrew Gans; Kathy Brown; Roger Clark; Chris Boneau; Tricia Daniels; Dan Zelinski; Benny Harrison; Steve Walter; Gil Friesen; Donna Dolenz; Dan Mapp; Brad Auerbach; James Clash; and ZIGGY!
Jackie Weld Drake, longtime chair of Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education, opened her Upper East Side residence to celebrate the upcoming Fiesta! Gala at The Plaza Hotel on October 10.
Two days of entertainment began with a cocktail party, September 13th, which she hosted with George Corton, Darlyn Portes, and Sissi Fleitas.  The next day was a luncheon for the Fiesta! Gala’s junior committee, affectionately called the Pachanga’s.
Guests included Board Members Martha Bograd, Michéle Gerber Klein, Alberto Mariaca, Ben Rodriguez-Cubenas, and Jean Shafiroff, as well as Estrellita Brodsky, Susan Cheever, Anencia Dixon, Lee Fryd, Susan Gutfreund, Ann Nitze, Marc Rosen, Victor Roquette, Daisy Soros, and Barbara Tober, joined by Casita Maria Executive Director Felix Urrutia and Artistic Director Gail Heidel.
Casita Maria creates a safe and welcoming community, enriching and uplifting youth and families towards success, through shared cultural, art and educational experiences and programs. Headquartered in the South Bronx, Casita Maria was established in 1934 by Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan as the first charitable organization to serve Latinos in New York City. Operating from a five-room tenement apartment in East Harlem, the Sullivan sisters, public school teachers who were also relatives of TV personality Ed Sullivan, had a primary mission to offer after school enrichment and recreational activities for the children of newly arrived families from Puerto Rico. Today, Casita Maria remains dedicated to its original mission, delivering services to the mostly Latino youth, and families of the Hunts Point community it serves in the Bronx. In 2009, Casita Maria inaugurated a state-of-the-art facility encompassing performance spaces, exhibition gallery, dance, and music studios, and more on its Simpson Street campus. This 90,000 square foot, six-story educational and cultural facility in collaboration with the Department of Education has enabled Casita Maria to expand its scope and capacities as a beacon of excellence.
Casita Maria’s 89th anniversary Fiesta! Gala will honor Grammy winning producer Nelson Albareda, Dr. Ramon Tallaj, the founder of SOMOS network, and Ambassador David and Jennifer Fischer. For tickets email
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: “Leading Lady; the Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy”…NEW autobiography of Charles Busch
Dîner en Blanc Returns to New York City in Epic Fashion
We’re Here to Help – When Guardianship Goes Wrong
Off-Broadway’s Muddy and Flat “Pay the Writer”
Monkee-Micky Dolenz Sings REM On New Release
The Master Plan Unravels Brilliantly and Hilariously at Crow’s Theatre Toronto
The Glorious Corner
Delmonico’s Revival Honored with Star-Studded Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
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