The Kennedy Center has produced yet another world premiere production for this season’s Theater for Young Audiences. This time, they have taken Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and brought the story to modern-day Rio in OLIVÉRio: A Brazilian Twist. With book and lyrics by Karen Zacarías and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, this adaptation breathes new life into a beloved classic about greed, betrayal, love, and hope with original music and lively Brazilian traditions.
The show is wonderfully directed by Juliette Carrillo and begins with the actors walking onstage to warm-up for their show. Immediately they notice that something is wrong. Expecting a set on the streets of London and costumes from the 1830s, the cast discovers that they are all dressed in white and the set appears to place them somewhere in Brazil. After some debate, and the help of a willing and eager young girl from the audience, the cast decides that the show must go on and they forge ahead with the play they had prepared, but with some tweaks to suit the vastly different culture that they have found themselves in. Thus begins OLIVÉRio: A Brazilian Twist!
Felicia Curry plays Esperança Olivério (or Oli) and is truly the embodiment of hope and faith in her fellow man. She has made her way to the beach where an annual pilgrimage brings people to the shore to ask the goddess of the sea, Iemanja, to grant their wishes. Oli surprises Iemanja, powerfully portrayed by Rayanne Gonzales, when she instead simply thanks the goddess and asks for nothing for herself.
The goddess is not the only one to see that Oli is special, though. The conniving Falcão (Sasha Olinick) seeks to exploit Oli’s innocence. Using Oli as a distraction, Olinick is perfectly insincere and lays on his false charm to steal from the wealthy Rosa Maria, played by Donna Migliaccio.
Migliaccio shows Rosa Maria as at first suspicious and guarded but, as she discovers the truth of Oli’s character, proves to have a heart full of generosity.
Arturo Soria as Zé Esquiva is this twisted version’s Artful Dodger and, along with Erika Rose as Nanci, Oli finds friends, who are quickly taken in by her sincerity and strength of spirit. The bond between Curry, Soria, and Rose is genuine and beautiful to see. Curry exudes the joy and hope that Oli represents and it is no small wonder why she is able to bring about such change in the people around her.
James Konicek is the villainous Silas Sykes, and wonderfully exemplifies the greed, selfishness, and total disdain for human decency that Sykes is known for.
Music Director Richard Miller leads this talented cast in an array of songs filled with beautiful harmonies and variations. The music is uplifting and energetic, accompanied onstage live Brazilian band, featuring musicians Bruno Lucini (percussion), Leonardo Lucini (bass), and Richard Miller (guitar). And the songs range in style from the lively and gorgeous ensemble piece, “Carnaval,” to the deeply moving “I’m Guilty,” sung by Curry.
The creative team did a fantastic job recreating Rio and the bright colors of the set illustrate the message of hope, which echoes throughout the show. Scenic design was by Luciana Stecconi, lighting design by Colin K. Bills, and sound design by Christopher Baine.
An impressive use of costuming, designed by Ivania Stack, imaginatively transforms the goddess of the sea’s dress into actual waves to great effect.
And the choreography, by Sonia Pessoa, is jubilant and expressive, incorporating original Brazilian styles.
OLIVÉRio: A Brazilian Twist is a fun and inventive show that takes a classic and improves upon it as a tale for children. The Kennedy Center’s production has a quality cast with striking voices and a story with a timeless message that always having “a little more hope” can do wonders for your life and the lives of others around you.
Take your family to see this inspiring and joyful production before it closes. You will all have a wonderful time!
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission
OLIVÉRio: A Brazilian Twist plays through February 21, 2016, in the Family Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.