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"Oliver!' with a twist

(ran PW, PS editions)

With Annie Get Your Gun in the can it's time for another revival for director Michael Ursua and the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.

Oliver!, based on the book Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, will sound a little bit different than the original, written by the late Lionel Bart.

That version opened in 1960 in London, ran for 2,618 performances and played at the Imperial Theater on Broadway for 774 performances.

The first act will still be light, the second act darker. But this 1994 London revival has been updated some, said Ursua.

"This script is more coherent, more fresh," he said. And while the dialogue has been modernized, more of the text from the Dickens book has been inserted into this script, he said.

The story, set in England in the late 1800s, has the orphaned Oliver making the egregious error of pleading for "more" food at the Orphan and Pauper Workhouse. This misstep has him dragged out on the street and sold to a local undertaker. He soon runs away to London, meeting up with the Artful Dodger, one of a group of young, ragged pickpockets who answer to their cunning leader, Fagin.

The innocent and naive Oliver is taken in by a kind, elderly gentleman after being unfairly accused of thievery. Life is good until Oliver encounters a former star pupil of Fagin's, the cruel and despicable Bill Sykes.

Playing Oliver is 12-year-old Steven Willsey of Orlando. His resume includes dancing and singing in the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, community performances throughout Florida _ The Music Man, The Sound of Music, Bye, Bye Birdie _ and TV appearances on Jim Henson's Animal Jam and Disney's Dooley and Pals.

Casey Maxwell,11, a girl who most recently starred in the Richey Suncoast Theatre production of Annie, plays the Artful Dodger, who cheers and welcomes Oliver to the seamy London life by belting out the uplifting Consider Yourself. Although the role traditionally goes to a boy, Casey doesn't miss a trick, said Ursua.

"She came into auditions ahead of the game, really prepared. She really wanted the role. You couldn't help but cast her," he said. "You'll never know (she's a girl). She's great." Casey has also garnered roles in The Wizard of Oz and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and has sung in the chorus for Fiddler on the Roof.

"The young people in the show are perfect. We really lucked out with that," said Ursua, adding that 13 youngsters playing orphans and pickpockets have been working hard with choreographer Jillian Johnson (Damn Yankees).

But that doesn't mean this is just a kids' production.

Children and adults alike will no doubt enjoy Jerry Gulledge's portrayal of the sly Fagin, the director said. Gulledge, who played Don Quixote in last year's production of Man of La Mancha, has performed the Fagin role a few times before, Ursua said. "He's got those great facial expressions that are perfect for those kind of roles."

Erik Michelsen, who is also the costume designer for Oliver!, portrays the menacing Bill Sykes. Past performances include Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Annie Get Your Gun, Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls and Gypsy.

Playing the good Nancy, Bill Sykes' girlfriend and Oliver's friend, is Susan Haldeman _ The Sound of Music, The Rocky Horror Show, Man of La Mancha and Crazy for You.

Rounding out the cast is William Mulligan as Mr. Bumble, Sara DelBeato as Widow Corney, Dan Johnson as Noah Claypole, Bobb James as Mr. Sowerberry and Dr. Grimwig, Becca McCoy as Mrs. Sowerberry and Mrs. Brownlow, Christine Perez as Charlotte, Terry Farley as Charles Bates, Laura Lynne Tapper as Bet, Jillian Johnson as Old Sally, and Samantha Kelly as the Old Lady.

Chorus members are Trever Auxier, Terry Farley, Jessica Fink, Tommy Frain, Cody Furlong, Savannah Rose Halley, Julian Evan, Rebecca Nelson, Darien Worden, Samantha Kelly, Michael Rossinsky, Todd Stoik and Aaron Wooten.

At a glance

WHAT: Oliver!

WHEN: Weekends, July 11 to Aug. 24. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays and 1:30 p.m. some Saturdays.

WHERE: Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson.

TICKETS: Dinner and show, $37.50; show only, $26.50. Ages 12 and younger, $19.95 and $14.95, plus tax and tip. Call (727) 863-7949 in western Pasco; toll-free elsewhere at 1-888-655-7469.