Charles Dickens’s bleak tale of a desperate orphan boy in 19th century London hardly seems like inspiring musical theater fare. And yet, what makes the musical “Oliver!” so uplifting is composer Lionel Bart’s emphasis on embracing life, no matter how small its pleasures. The Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of “Oliver!” finds Dickens’s sense of hope and love in the midst of degradation and despair and energizes the story with a terrific vocal ensemble of both children and adults.
In the title role, sixth-grader Charlie Clinton displays an angelic voice with a demeanor to match. His unadorned renditions of both “Where Is Love?” and “Who Will Buy?” create that delicate balance of utter loneliness and hope that fuels the emotional tone of this musical.