Area Stage ‘Oliver!’ Stunning at Arsht Center in Miami

As has been the case with past Area Stage productions of the family musicals Annie, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, once again Area Stage Artistic Director Giancarlo Rodaz has immersed the audience into the stage in the company’s unique presentation of Oliver!, running now through February 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

Rodaz and Area Stage scenic designer Frank J. Olivia transformed the entire theater into a 19th century Victorian workhouse set in London. The audience sits in rows of benches (with no back cushions) to illustrate the harsh realistic conditions of the larger than life characters in Oliver!

Oliver! is based on 19th century novelist Charles Dickens “Oliver Twist”, who had great empathy for the poor and was a critic of the infamous British Poor Laws of the 1800s. Dickens’ play was the inspiration for the immensely popular 1960 musical adaptation by Lionel Bart that featured many child actors. Oliver! has also been adapted as a 1968 film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The popular musical has been revived in the past 20 years by famed British producer Cameron Mackintosh.

Artful Dodger (actress Staci Stout) sings on the banjo to Oliver (Hallie Walker) in the musical Oliver!, running now through February 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

Rodaz’s adaptation features a small cast of ten actors, none of them being child actors, and many of them playing multiple roles. Rather than employing child actors, puppets are effectively used by the actors to illustrate the huge number of impoverished children who are part of the workhouse.

Instead of gazing their eyes on a central stage, audience members see the actors dancing, singing, running on the tops of the tables in front of their benches, with many of the choreographed productions of songs spread through the many table tops in the theater. This results in audience members seeing themselves as participants rather than spectators in the Area Stage production.

Young Oliver (played by actress Hallie Walker, who captures the spirit of the optimistic naïve boy perfectly) begins his journey in a bleak workhouse where he has lived since his mother died in childbirth. Oliver and the orphans were forced to work for meager bits of food.

Oliver (actress Hallie Walker) in the musical Oliver! running now through February 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

Oliver eventually escapes the workhouse to London in search of love and family. He meets the charming Artful Dodgers (actress Staci Stout), who charms Oliver by welcoming him in both dialogue and song singing “Consider Yourself” Artful Dodger introduces Oliver to the elderly Fagin (actor John Luis Mazuelos), leader of a group of young pickpockets and thieves. Oliver is caught stealing and is taken under custody by a good natured wealthy gentleman (actor Tico Chiriboga).

Fagin convinces his juvenile misfits to kidnap the missing Oliver for fear that he will expose Fagin and his young gang of thieves. The story meanders into many subplots with intriguing characters that capture the attention of the audience.

Among the many characters portrayed in Oliver! are: The abusive, violent Bill Sikes and the cruel workhouse master Mr. Bumble (both roles played by Frank Montoto), and the widow Mrs. Corney and Charley Bates ( both roles played by Annette Rodriguez) and Nancy (Ashlee Waldbauer).

Nancy (actress Ashlee Waldbauer) in the musical Oliver! running now through February 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

The two hour, 30 minute two act production stands out as a unique way of interpreting the familiar story of young Oliver with poignant songs, such as “As Long As He Needs Me”, “Consider Yourself”, “Where Is Love” among others that add to the emotional warmth and buffoonery of many of the characters.

Actresses Walker and Stout are impressive, looking and sounding like young boys. The casting of these two actresses was a coup for Rodaz. The Area Stage production is the first company ever to cast women in the lead roles of Oliver and Artful Dodger in this production.

Not to be overlooked are the masks and puppets (supplied by Phantom Limb) that gave the feel of seeing hundreds of children toiling in the workhouse. Many of the actors playing the adult characters wore stilts showing their dominance over the young boys in the workhouse.     

Rounding out the cast was pianist Michael Day (also the Music Director), Frank Capoferri on reeds and Liubov Ohrimenco on violin that added to the beauty of the songs in the musical.

Area Stage’s production of the musical Oliver! runs for four more performances this week though Sunday, February 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. in downtown Miami. Performances are on Friday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m,, two shows on Sat. Feb. 24 at 1 pm and 7 p.m. and the final performance on Sunday, Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. Tickets range from $31-$68. To purchase tickets, go to or call 305-949-6722.

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