Ian Shaw (left) and Coen Michael Berin (right) in Oliver! Courtesy photo


Cardinal Stage Company is celebrating its 10th anniversary season, and Artistic Director Randy White sees it as the right time to come full circle. “I’ve had a number of requests over the years to redo Oliver! and it happens to be one of my favorite shows,” says White. “It all came together as an idea that made sense for this year.”

White is also taking this opportunity to track down members from the original 2007 Cardinal production of Oliver! and invite them to see the new cast perform. “Everybody’s moved on,” says White. “It’s 10 years later. If you were 8, you’re going to college now. We’re going to be bringing those kids up on stage and celebrating them.”

The upcoming Oliver! production, based on Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, will have 60 local children playing orphans and pickpockets. Between the first rehearsal and the last curtain call, the young actors will receive theater lessons and learn more about performing, which is White’s way of thanking them for their contributions. “Cardinal is often celebrated for doing a lot of good things for kids in the community,” White says. “We wanted this to be a celebration of what kids have done for Cardinal.”

Staging a familiar show is also a way of maintaining continuity during a transitional period at Cardinal. White, Cardinal’s founder, has served as managing artistic director since 2006, but is turning managerial duties over to Gabe Gloden, the former managing director at Bloomington Playwrights Project. “The company is getting larger now and it’s time for that to happen,” White says. “Whether or not I was looking at a transition in a couple of years, it was time.”

White plans to spend two more years with Cardinal as artistic director, but during the second year, he will commute from Chicago where his wife, Ellen MacKay, a Shakespearean scholar, has taken a teaching position at the University of Chicago.

As for staging this particular play during the holidays, White acknowledges that Oliver! has some darker themes, but says Dickens’ moral agenda is valuable. “The experience of Oliver! is one in which you find yourself identifying with those kids and hoping that we can find a way to treat our less fortunate children, and others, in better ways,” he says.

Oliver! will run from December 16–31 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Tickets are available at cardinalstage.org.