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A Dickens of a show
Savannah Childrens Theatre presents <i>Oliver</i>!
Members of the cast rehearse

Everyone is busy at the Savannah Children’s Theatre these days.

The musical Oliver! opens Jan. 18, and there’s been some scrambling to get everything done. Yet Kelie Miley, the theater’s unflappable director, is calm and smiling in the midst of the madness.

“It’s going very well,” she insists. “Everyone just came back from a long break. I learned a long time ago that if I tried to hold rehearsals after Dec. 18, I’d lose half of my cast. Now we break until school starts again.”

This year’s extra long holiday break left Miley with just two weeks to whip Oliver! into shape. “The costumers are sewing, people are painting and I have a great cast,” she says. “It’s going to come together.”

Twice a year, the Savannah Children’s Theatre presents a main-stage show with adults playing the adult roles. Les Taylor has been cast in one of the adult roles as Fagin.

“He’s not exactly a nice guy, but in this musical, he’s a comical guy,” Taylor says. “He’s bad, but he’s comic. He’s a bad comic.”

Taylor has played Fagin before. “I did this role about 12 years ago with Kelie when she was working for the city,” he says. “I’ve read the Oliver Twist story. They hang him in the story — the Artful Dodger, too. I guess it was too dark for a musical comedy.”

Taylor’s credentials are impressive. “I’ve acted here in Savannah about 14 years,” he says. “A long, long time ago, I worked in opera for a while.

“I was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield,” Taylor says. “I decided when I got out that I was going to do what I really wanted to do. That was sing.

“I went to school and got a degree in voice,” Taylor says. “I went to South Florida and sang professionally while I was going to graduate school.”

For the past 30 years, Taylor has been a voice teacher. Among his students are Tyler Daughtery, who plays the Artful Dodger, and Matthew Sparks, who plays Oliver.“I really love musical theater,” Taylor says. “I’ve worked many times with Kelie.

“This is going to be a great show. It’s got enthusiastic kids and a great cast. The pickpockets are all very enthusiastic about picking my pockets.”

At 12, Tyler Daughtery is already a seasoned performer. The Savannah Christian Preparatory School student has done several roles in the last two years.

Tyler joined the Savannah Children’s Theatre for one reason. “My mom wanted me to be a well-rounded person,” he explains. “I was only interested in sports.”

Proving that moms really do know best, Tyler enjoys theater so much he even chose to miss a tennis lesson so he could do publicity for Oliver! “I love theater — it’s wonderful,” he says.

Like Fagin, the Artful Dodger is not exactly a pillar of virtue. “He’s kind of the leader of the pickpockets,” Tyler says. “They steal handkerchiefs and wallets and other things.”

In addition to taking voice lessons, Tyler watched the film version of Oliver! to prepare for the role. He says dancing is the hardest part of musical theater, even though he’s done some Irish dance. “It takes a lot of time to get it right,” he says.

There are about 70 people in the cast, with 25 grown-ups and the rest aged 18 and under. The smallest children play the orphans, and the middle-sized kids are the pickpockets.

“Matthew Sparks is Oliver, and he’s doing a great job,” Miley says. “This show is such a loved show. It’s happy and yet dark at the same time.

“At its heart, it’s about abuse — child abuse, significant other abuse, violence and class struggle,” she says. “I’ve done this show before, but I keep going back to it because it’s so interesting and there’s so much to work on. And the audience likes it.”

The Savannah Children’s Theatre will present Oliver! Jan. 18, 19, 25 and 26 and Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 19, 20, 26 and 27 and Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. at the Savannah Children’s Theatre, 2160 E. Victory Dr. Tickets are $15 to $20. For information, visit