REVIEW by Willard Manus

Dickens's Oliver Twist gets an update and a transfusion of hot Broadway blood in TWIST--AN AMERICAN MUSICAL, now in its West Coast premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse. The story, by William F. Brown and Tina Tippit, is set in New Orleans in Prohibition times, with a showbiz phenom, Alaman Diadhiou, playing Twist, the 10-year-old child of Angela, a white woman (Ava Gaudet) and Roosevelt King, a black entertainer (Jared Grimes), who is lynched by a KKK mob for having dared to defy the law against miscegenation.

Twist is born and raised in an orphanage run by Pistol (Joshua Bolden), a black Fagin who teaches his charges how to pick pockets and sell homemade hootch. He's also not above putting them up for sale. Twist goes for two bucks to a local undertaker (Cleavant Derricks), but before long his singing and dancing skills come to the attention of King's ex-showbiz partner (Matthew Johnson) and his chanteuse girlfriend (Tamyra Gray). A kindly white lawyer (Cliff Bemis) also becomes involved in Twist's life, which becomes more and more complicated with each turn in the musical's convoluted storyline.
TWIST is also packed with songs and elaborate dance routines, over three hours' worth. The large cast, led by the charismatic Diadhiou (and his alternate, Coco Monroe), expends vast amounts of energy from beginning to end, spiritedly delivering Tena Clark's numerous tunes (music by Clark & Gary Prim) and Debbie Allen's fast and furious choreography. The dazzling set and lighting effects, by Todd Rosenthal and Howell Binkley, respectively, plus ESosa's colorful costumes, also give TWIST a Broadway-quality look and feel.

Twist's search for his father and true familial love sometimes gets lost in all the glitz and clamor, but that doesn't mean the show doesn't work. On the contrary, TWIST is top-level entertainment, a slick and snappy musical which will no doubt achieve commercial success in the months to come.

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 626-356-7529 or