"In 'Oliver Twist,' I want to show Goodness triumphing over every form of adversity."-- Charles Dickens
It's not altogether clear that Dickens knew precisely how "Oliver Twist" would evolve when he began serializing the novel in 1837 -- except that (spoiler alert!) it would end well for the title character. But from the get-go of Lionel Bart's 1960 musical, now receiving a Theatre Three reincarnation, it's a given that the fix is in for Goodness to prevail.
As directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, also playing the complicated villain Fagin, "Oliver!" sings and dances with dramatic purpose, flawlessly accompanied by Jackson Kohl's orchestra.
From his first line, following the opening "Food, Glorious Food" anthem that bespeaks the near-starvation diet of workhouse orphanages, Kiernan Urso as Oliver has us eating out of his outstretched hands, begging, "Please, sir, I want some more."
The sprawling story, encapsulated in the show that won a 1963 Tony for best original score and a 1968 Oscar for best picture, unfolds like a page-turner, framed by Randall Parsons' multilevel set of gaslight illumination (Robert Henderson Jr.) evoking 19th century London. Doug Vandewinckel and Phyllis March temper their grim workhouse personas with hammy takes on the flirtatious "I Shall Scream."
Hans Hendrickson as the Artful Dodger (nattily costumed by Chakira Doherty) leads in the welcoming recruitment of Oliver into a life of crime with a boisterous "Consider Yourself." Sanzel, playing a thieves' den mother of sorts, prescribes the boy's assigned career on "Pick a Pocket or Two," a trade he taught Nancy, played with lusty abandon by Jennifer Collester Tully, who sings with ironic resignation, "It's a Fine Life." Later, she breaks our hearts with her ode to poor judgment in character with a passionate "As Long as He Needs Me." The "he," of course, is remorseless Bill Sikes, the monster criminal Fagin schooled.
Steve McCoy helps us see why speaking "My Name" makes everyone in earshot quiver in fear. The song serves as stark contrast to Oliver's pathetic query, "Where Is Love?" and the ensemble number "Who Will Buy?," choreographed with haunting precision by Marquez.
But nothing in musical literature surpasses "Reviewing the Situation" in moral ambiguity. Sanzel pulls it off with grace notes of humanizing humor while never excusing Fagin's child debasement.
Full disclosure: I'm partial to "Oliver!" -- the first Broadway show I saw, way back when. Theatre Three's is the best I've seen since.
WHEN | WHERE Friday and Saturday nights at 8; 7 p.m. Sunday, varied schedule through June 27, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
TICKETS $15-$30; 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com