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‘Twist’ Premieres at the Alliance Theatre

2010 September 27

Photo by Greg Mooney

In its third incarnation, a musical from a book can work. Just recently Aurora Theatre produced “Shrew: the Musical.” And if you went there thinking nothing could possibly be as good as Cole Porter’s musical version of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” you were in for a wonderful surprise.

If you care to see “Twist,” the second musical version of Dickens’s “Oliver Twist,” you probably won’t be saying, “Please, sir, I want some more.” Less than halfway through the second act, I was ready for it to be over.

Directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen, I expected so much more from this show. I would have even been glad to have settled for a good production, if not great. Allen apparently doesn’t hold the cast up to the same standards she holds for herself as a performer.

In the 1980s, Allen was nominated for two Tony Awards for her roles as Anita in “West Side Story” and Charity in “Sweet Charity.” She has also been a judge on my favorite TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” and has choreographed for the Academy Awards. She is even working to pass on her passion through her own dancing school in Los Angeles.

Allen was nominated for two Tony Awards for her roles in “West Side Story” and “Sweet Charity.” She has also been a judge on my favorite TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” and has choreographed for the Academy Awards. She is even working to pass on her passion of dance through her own dancing school in Los Angeles. So, I expected to be blown away by the dancing. But you wouldn’t want to put these dancers on next to those in last season’s production of Twyla Tharp’s “Come Fly With Me.”

Like “Oliver!,” “Twist” is a musical version of Dickens’s classic tale “Oliver Twist.” But instead of being set in England in the 1800s, it occurs in New Orleans between 1919 and 1928.

At an orphanage for boys, Twist (Alaman Diadhiou) is bullied by his peers and caretakers for being a “mulatto.” His black father was killed for having a romantic relationship with a white woman, and his mother died in childbirth. At around age 8, an undertaker buys the unwanted Twist from the orphanage for a couple of dollars. The undertaker makes him sleep alongside the deceased and returns him to the orphanage because he says the boy can’t dance.

I should feel sorry for this boy and the other orphans, but I don’t. Whether that is the fault of the script or the acting, I am not sure.

“Oliver!” is one of those musicals that envelop you inside the characters. You hate Bill Sikes, you love Oliver, Nancy and the Artful Dodger. But with “Twist,” the feeling I had for the characters was nil, even though Della (Olivia-Diane Joseph), is one heck of a singer.

It’s an admirable theme for a show: The color of one’s skin should not matter. It worked beautifully for me in the recent national touring company’s version of “South Pacific,” and it was just as fantastic when I saw the Lincoln Center version televised on PBS just weeks later.

Unfortunately, “Twist” comes off as preachy and boring.

Some of the dancers – many who hail from Allen’s Los Angeles dance school – are good, but some of them are just OK at best. Much of the acting feels pushed and unbelievable, especially that of the young boys who recite lines as if they were “acting” instead of living. However, one standout among the boys is Trey Best, who comes alive and lives truthfully under imaginary circumstances on stage no matter what he is doing.

The day I saw the show, Twist sang a wonderful, touching rendition of his opening number, “I Have A Soul,” but he faltered on other solo tunes with a shrieking, cracking voice that often trailed off key.

The most outstanding performer, Della, who plays the live-in girl friend of the abusive Boston (Matthew Johnson) – the take-off characters of Nancy and Bill Sikes from “Oliver!” – sings beautifully with emotion and is one of the most believable actors on the stage.

“Twist” would have been more enjoyable with another twist, just a musical review of the best cast members singing and dancing. Better yet, just give me Debbie Allen.

“Twist” runs at the Alliance Theatre through Oct. 3.

Book by William F. Brown; Music by Tena Clark and Gary Prim; Lyrics by Tena Clark.


Zaire Adams

Paul Aguirre

E. Wade Benson

Trey Best

Sabrina Cmelak

Alaman Diadhiou

Nickolas Eibler

Duane Asanté Ervin

John Fisher

Kyle Garvin

Michael George

Jared Grimes

Shawna M. Hamic

Beau Harmon

Chantel Heath

Matthew Johnson

Olivia-Diane Joseph

Jamie Katz

Tracy Kennedy

Chandler Kinney

Aijia Lise

Chase Maxwell

Rikki McKinney

Pat McRoberts

Madison Minniti

Chondra La-Teaste Profit

Malaiyka Reid

Brett Sturgis

Dougie Styles

Melissa Lola Youngblood

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