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Review: OLIVER! at Osceola Arts

Review: OLIVER! at Osceola Arts

A solid and entertaining production of the classic Lionel Bart musical

Review: OLIVER! at Osceola Arts "Please, sir. I want some more." These words, spoken by Oliver Twist at the beginning of Lionel Bart's musical OLIVER! kick off a tumultuous journey for the young boy, hurling him into a world destined to change his life forever. It's a story familiar to many, and one that continues to inspire, even today. In its latest production, Osceola Arts presents this classic tale with a dedicated and energetic cast that entertains and excites.

Review: OLIVER! at Osceola Arts OLIVER!, based on Charles Dickens' classic tale Oliver Twist, centers on young orphan, Oliver (Kalen Rojas) who dares to ask for more gruel to eat at suppertime in the workhouse where he has grown up. The staff are outraged, particularly the beadle of the workhouse, Mr. Bumble (Derek Scott Hayden) and Widow Corney (Becca Griffin) and in response, Oliver is taken away and sold as an apprentice to an undertaker and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (David Frey and Danielle Klahr). He soon escapes and meets the Artful Dodger (Kieran Konopka) on the streets of London, who introduces him to his band of young thieves. The criminal leader of the gang, Fagin (Courtney Holifield) then teaches Oliver how to "Pick a Pocket or Two" - grooming him to become a member of the band of thieves. On his first outing, Oliver is caught, and then taken in by the kind Mr. Brownlow (David Frey). But Oliver soon is kidnapped back by despicable thief Bill Sikes (Eric Sharp) and his girl, the kindhearted and conflicted Nancy (Hannah McGinley Lemasters). Things escalate quickly from there, ending with a fateful night that changes everyone's lives forever.

Review: OLIVER! at Osceola Arts Osceola Arts' production is a classic staging of the musical - with all the elements one expects from OLIVER! - the Victorian setting and clothes, the Dickensian turn of phrase and boisterous and lively musical numbers. Director Elijah D. Gragg has made some unique choices - some of which work well, others which I believe fall a little short. In terms of the pacing and staging of the action, Mr. Gragg does a solid job keeping the action moving smoothly and has put together a solid cast of young and old alike. However, his choice to change the gender of the central character of Fagin, turning the irascible scamp into "Lady Fagin" doesn't quite work, in my opinion. Courtney Holifield who portrays Fagin gives a great performance showing off strong comedic timing and a solid delivery, but the gender change of such an iconic and critical role left this reviewer scratching his head and wondering what the motivation was to make this unusual shift.

Review: OLIVER! at Osceola Arts This choice, luckily, does not overshadow the overall production. It is fun to watch and the cast does a marvelous job telling the story on stage. With such a large cast, it would be hard to call out everyone, but there were a few standout performances worth noting. First, overall the children playing orphans and Fagin's gang are a joy to watch - infusing the performance with a youthful energy and enthusiasm that is hard not to love. As Oliver, Kalen Rojas, is sweet and innocent and delivers an angelic performance of "Where is Love?". As Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney, Derek Scott Hayden and Becca Griffin are hilarious to watch and play off each other quite well, especially in the title song and "I Shall Scream". As Bill Sikes, Eric Sharp is scary and intense, and as Nancy, Hannah McGinley Lemasters is a joy to watch. From the moment she sets foot on stage to her tragic finale, Ms. Lemasters gives the audience everything it could ever want in the role and more. Her powerful "As Long As He Needs Me" was the emotional high point of the evening.

The world imagined on stage by Osceola's skilled and talented creative team is rich, vibrant and visually exciting. Waylon Lemasters' scenic design takes advantage of Osceola Arts' effective turntable stage, providing smooth and seamless transitions throughout the night and his sound design is equally strong. Bradley Cronenwett's lighting is fantastic - creating the right mood for every moment and adding unexpected layers to the action on stage. Matthew Carl-Allen's costumes are well suited for the period - in particular Mr. Bumble's uniform and Nancy's dresses. Kit Riffel's choreography is dynamic and fun and the vocals from the cast are, for the most part, quite good, a testament to Safin Karim's solid music direction.

Overall, OLIVER! at Osceola Arts is like visiting with an old friend. It is a solid and entertaining interpretation of a familiar story delivered by a passionate and dedicated cast that seems to be enjoying every minute in the spotlight.

Review: OLIVER! at Osceola Arts

OLIVER!, presented by Osceola Arts, runs through December 18th. Tickets start at only $24, with Senior, students, and group rates available. Performances are at 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays, 2pm on Sundays with a Saturday matinee on December 17th at 2:00pm. For additional information and to purchase show tickets visit or call 407-846-6257.

All Photos provided by Osceola Arts and feature the cast of OLIVER!.

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