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Surviving on the streets

Oliver!, the musical based on Charles Dickens' classic tale of a naive orphan plunged into Victorian London's seamy street life, opens Friday for a six-week run at the Show Palace Dinner Theater.

Director Michael Ursua is using the script from the 1994 London revival, which includes more of the text from Oliver Twist than the original, which opened in 1960.

The first act is fun and somewhat light with numbers such as the Artful Dodger's Consider Yourself and Fagin's You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two. The second act is darker as Oliver's situation grows ever more perilous.

The title role is played by Steven Willsey, 12, of Orlando, a community theater veteran whose television appearances include Jim Henson's Animal Jam and Disney's Dooley and Pals. Casey Maxwell,11, who most recently starred in the Richey Suncoast Theatre production of Annie, plays the streetwise Artful Dodger.

Choreographer Jillian Johnson (Damn Yankees) has been working with 13 other youngsters in the cast who portray orphans and adolescent pickpockets.

"They're great," said Ursua, "We've thrown so much at them I thought their heads were going to spin. But they picked it right up."

Fagin, the pickpockets' elderly mentor, is played by Boca Raton's Jerry Gulledge, who has performed the role a few times before. Erik Michelsen, who is also the costume designer for Oliver!, portrays the villain, Bill Sikes; Show Palace regular Susan Haldeman plays Sikes' girl, Nancy.