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Art Beat: “Oliver! Jr.” Preview

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Learning accents, researching source materials, and perfecting complex dance numbers are just a few of the tasks the young students of Acorn Theatre have done in preparation for their production of “Oliver! Jr.”  The show itself is the Broadway Junior version of Lionel Bart’s classic musical based on Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist.”  The crew at the helm for this production is headed by Director/Choreographer Lexi Allocco, 17, and Assistant Director/Co-Choreographer Zeke Richards,16. The cast is filled with talented young people ready to entertain Hernando audiences with their take on a signature show. “Oliver! Jr.” will be performed from November 12th-14th and 19th-21st at the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for the Arts, located at 21030 Cortez Boulevard, Brooksville, Florida 34601.

“I feel this production was a good fit for Acorn Theatre because it is different from any show we have done in this department. The kids have been used to shows like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Aladdin’ that have a fun, surface level depth to them that seems to be the perfect fit for a junior show, however these kids are capable of so much more than that and can dive deeper into a more realistic, intense production. The students have been exceeding our expectations for ‘Oliver! Jr.’ and have adapted really well to this sort of production. We are excited to show our audiences a different side of Acorn Theatre,” said Lexi Allocco. 

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The story that’s at the core of “Oliver! Jr.” is a timeless tale of youth in peril. “The streets of Victorian England come to life as Oliver, a malnourished orphan in a workhouse, becomes the neglected apprentice of an undertaker. Oliver escapes to London and finds acceptance amongst a group of petty thieves and pickpockets led by the elderly Fagin. When Oliver is captured for a theft that he did not commit, the benevolent victim, Mr. Brownlow takes him in. Fearing the safety of his hideout, Fagin employs the sinister Bill Sikes and the sympathetic Nancy to kidnap him back, threatening Oliver’s chances of discovering the true love of a family. Oliver! JR. is full of classic songs like ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘Food Glorious Food’,  and ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’,” reads the play description.  

The Acorn Theatre works together to produce and perform 3 shows each year as well as participate in Brooksville’s Annual Tree Lighting. Students are between the ages of 8 and 18.

The Acorn Theatre production team consists of rotating directors/instructors who are assisted by a team of apprentices in the areas of stage manager, assistant director, costumes, choreography, lighting, sound, music and set design.  Parent volunteers are always welcomed in these areas as well.  

Acorn Theatre apprentices are chosen from regular performers who have “grown up” on the Live Oak stage. They assume leadership roles in the production and mentor the students of the Youth Theatre. One of these is “Oliver! Jr.” Director Lexi Allocco. “I started drama when I was 8 years old because a friend told me to go to an audition with her. I always grew up going to the theatre to see shows and putting on little plays for my family so it really was something I don’t remember not having as a big part in my life. Through the years I have been to several different theatre companies performing shows, but Live Oak Theatre has always been my home. It was where I started it all and it has grown on me the most. Even after doing theatre for almost 10 years I haven’t stopped learning things, going through new experiences and just growing in my different skills. I plan to keep going in this direction and improving in my directing, dancing and acting,” she said. 

Aside from being a stellar production, “Oliver! Jr.” is a true learning experience for young thespians. “The first thing that comes to my mind is that they have to learn to really become a character. They have to have a specific accent, walk a certain way, react a certain way and make the audience believe they are a completely different person. They aren’t playing parrots,or genies, mad hatters or Cheshire cats, they are playing real life people who have real struggles and conflicts they are having to get through. This show has really grown all the students as actors and has made them think of theatre in a completely different way,” said Allocco. 

She says the cast and crew are putting a lot of work and effort into this vision. “The biggest challenge we have had with this is the students’ accents. This show has very specific accents for each character which has been new for most of the kids in Acorn Theatre. They haven’t had to worry about the way they speak in our previous shows and with “Oliver! Jr.” it can’t be done without having these accents. We have worked with students every rehearsal with their speech and they are improving more everyday,” said Allocco. 

Research is another key component of student preparation for “Oliver! Jr.” “Right in the beginning we gave them their scripts to read through, they’ve been reading the book, and most have seen the movie. For some characters we even watched other productions of Oliver to get the overall show in our heads. We train our students to really study the show they are part of and to go all in to make it the best that they can. We have seen it in our students that they have been doing their homework and they know their characters very well. We also will have group discussions on our vision for scenes, what we think is best for a character given the timeline, and what direction we are wanting to go just so that we all can be on the same page. This has proven to be very helpful to our cast and crew to make the rehearsal process run smoothly,” Allocco explained.

“I hope the students realize they can do anything they want to when they put in the effort and work hard at it. In the beginning this seemed to be an impossible task to most and they weren’t sure they could do the accents, or make such an intense, deep story seem real because they are kids, or be able to learn the many dance numbers, but they all put their minds to it and have worked very hard to make this possible. So that is what I hope people take out of this is that hard work pays off,”  said Allocco.

ADVANCED seats are $15 for adults and $8 for children ages 13 and under, when accompanied by an adult. Friday, and Saturday evening shows are at 7:30 PM; Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 2:30 PM. Tickets at the door are increased to $20 for adults and $10 for children with an accompanying adult. Advanced prices are available up to approximately 24 hours before each performance. To purchase tickets, go to https://liveoaktheatre.square.site/  or email [email protected] or call 352-593-0027.

Please Note: If you purchase tickets under different names and wish to be seated together, you must email the box office at [email protected] or call 352-593-0027.

Live Oak Theatre & Conservatory Announces the Cast of Oliver! Jr.

The Cast of Oliver! Jr. is as follows:

-Oliver Twist: Titus Richards

-Artful Dodger: Truman Rossiter

-Fagin: Elijah Torres

-Nancy: Adelle Richards

-Bill: Micah Rossiter

-Mr. Bumble: Peder Olsen & Eje Walters

-Bet: Alannah Allocco

-Widow Corney: Kaylee Umstead

-Mr. Brownlow: Zeke Richards

-Mrs. Sowerberry: Ava McCoy

-Charlotte: Samantha Sanborn

-Noah Claypole: Daxon McCoy

-Mrs. Bedwin: Remi Lay

-Captain: Marley Kohlas

-Handwalker: Evelyn Mitten

-Charlie Bates: Zeke Richards 

-Nipper: Cappy Lay/Aaron Trombley

-Chairman: Ian Moorhouse 

-Milkmaid: Evelyn Mitten

-Strawberry Seller: Samantha Sanborn

-Knife Grinder: Molly Pianin

-Rose Seller: Isabella Rossiter

-Dr. Grimwig: Ian Moorhouse

-Matron: Natasha Berard

-Old Sally: Marley Kohlas

-Maid: Katie Johnson

-Delivery Person: Averic Olejniczak

-Market Sellers: Evelyn Mitten, Isabella Rossiter, Molly Pianin, Zeke Richards, Kaylee Umstead, Amelia Olejniczak, Selah Winters, Natasha Berard, Samantha Sanborn, Ava McCoy, Elayne Bowman, Tatiana Peach, Daxon McCoy, Averic Olejniczak, Adah Stephens, Katie Johnson, Eleana Lipidarov, Ellevia Walters. 

-First Woman: Kaylee Umstead

-Second Woman: Katie Johnson

-Third Woman: Adah Stephens

-First Man: Daxon McCoy

-Lamplighter: Amelia Olejniczak

-First Woman in London: Natasha Berard

-First Runner: Samantha Sanborn

-Police 1: Daxon McCoy

-Police 2: Ian Moorhouse

-Woman: Molly Pianin

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