By Charlene Baldridge
Diversionary Theatre opened its season July 11 with a musical send-up based on the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist.” Specifically aimed at the annual San Diego GLBT Pride Festival, Paul Leschen and Gila Sand’s “Twist” is an official Pride event, the seventh such designation for a Diversionary production.
Local residents already familiar with Diversionary’s excellent production standards will not be disappointed, although the dark Victorian piece, chock-a-block with S&M, may not appeal to all. Patrons not put off by bondage, cross-dressing, dominance and the extreme aspects of homoerotica will no doubt love it. The company romps through it all with glee.
Cast upon the doorstep of Mr. Bumble’s orphanage as an infant, Oliver Twist (sweet-voiced tenor Jacob Caltrider) survives to puberty, only to be sold into bondage to the Sowerberrys (fabulously scary Andy Collins and Jackie Cuccaro, who also plays Oliver’s shoe-fetishist savior, Lady Downlow). Oliver is not at all pleased with the Sowerberrys’ profession — undertaking — so he runs away, only to encounter the Artful Dodger (egregiously appealing Tom Zohar). Dodger takes Twist home to a den of thieves, prostitutes and platform shoes, lorded over by the monstrous sadist, Fagin.
In Jeannie Galioto’s gowns and Peter Herman’s wigs, San Diego favorite David McBean looks fabulous as the dominatrix Fagin. Scott Striegel, remembered for his fine acting in Diversionary’s “Facing East,” portrays the snakelike Bill Sikes, who murders the whore with a heart of gold, Nancy (Amy Northcutt), when she gives away the gang’s whereabouts.
As one sits in the dark, the sounds and sights of epic productions past — “Sweeney Todd,” “Les Miserables” and “Threepenny Opera” — flit through one’s mind; however, Leschen and Sand’s music has a certain appeal all its own, particularly in the harmonious duet/quartet “Everything Good Will Come to You,” sung by Nancy, Twist, Fagin and Dodger.
Overall, the singing of the challenging score is outstanding, though the rock tessitura is sometimes problematic. The ensemble executes the complicated music well, supported by Tim McKnight on keyboards, Nathan Hubbard on percussion and Jonathan Davis on guitar. Other company members are the excellent Tony Houck, a scream as Charlie, Fagin’s maid and the orphanage matron, and Jimmy Latimer, Jr., who plays Weasel. Set in 1857 London and played upon Kristin Ellert’s ramp, platform and pipe set, the production is staged by James Vasquez with musical direction by McKnight.
“Twist” continues through August 9 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, with an added performance at 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 27. Tickets are $31-$33.
The Diversionary Theatre is located at 4545 Park Blvd., Normal Heights, San Diego, wwwdiversionary.org or (619) 220-0097.
Charlene Baldridge is a freelance arts writer whose work also appears in the La Jolla Village News, Performances Magazine, sdtheatrescene.com and newolderwoman.blogspot.com