Silver Spring boy having glorious fun starring in `Oliver!'

Actor enjoys being on road but misses group at home

Stage: theater, music, dance

March 18, 2004|By K Kaufmann | K Kaufmann,SUN STAFF

Justin S. Pereira doesn't bother with bad reviews.

The 12-year-old actor from Silver Spring plays the title role in the current road show of Oliver!, which is drawing mixed reviews for its non-Equity cast and stripped-down production. This version, which lands at the Lyric Opera House Wednesday and runs through March 28, is based on Cameron Mackintosh's much-praised 1994 revival of the original Broadway musical hit, known for such memorable tunes as "Food, Glorious Food" and "As Long as He Needs Me."

Speaking with the aplomb of a seasoned trouper, Pereira said he and the 16 other kids in the ensemble cast rarely even read the reviews. "I think the show is amazing, and I'm not going to let a reviewer tell me otherwise," he said, taking an interview call on his cell phone during the play's stop in Providence, R.I., earlier this month.

The critics have been mostly kind to Pereira, noting his sweet voice and appropriately waif-like cuteness. Other standout members in the cast include Renate Renee Wilson, who plays Nancy, and 14-year-old Andrew Blau, who's the Artful Dodger.

Pereira started acting at age 9, when he followed his older sister into a Rockville-area performance group, Upbeat Unlimited. "I love the applause," he said. "I love to sing and the energy you get from dancing."

His first starring role, prophetically enough, was in a local production of Oliver! He's also been in a number of shows in the Washington area, most notably the Kennedy Center production of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along in 2002. This Oliver! is his first time on the road, and three months into the nine-month run, he said he's having a great time.

Peak experiences so far, he said, have been visiting the Mall of America during the play's stop in St. Paul, Minn., and going to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. He says he's looking forward to Newark, N.J., where he's scheduled to see Wicked, the Broadway hit musical that is his current favorite.

being on the road is exhausting, he said. Most days, he's in school from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. -- he has books and assignments from Takoma Park Middle School, where he's in seventh grade -- then at the theater by 7, and has a matinee on Saturday. He keeps in touch with his friends back home by cell phone, and his parents, Steve and Beth Pereira, fly in to see him almost every weekend.

Doing Oliver! the second time around, he said, has meant forgetting everything he'd done before and starting fresh with director Graham Gill's suggestions. He read excerpts from Oliver Twist, the Charles Dickens novel that is the play's source material, and, he said, he "listen[s] to the other actors' lines. ... The lines make you feel like the character."

The makeup helps, too. Pereira and the other kids get their street-urchin looks by smearing dirt on their faces every night. "For my own enjoyment, I put it on in different patterns," he said.

His favorite parts of the show are the ones he finds most challenging and fun: "Food, Glorious Food," for its precise ensemble work, and "I'd Do Anything," which allows him some room to improvise. "I have to pretend I don't know what I'm doing, so I get to change things," he said.

Alongside his passion for show music, Pereira is a fan of the rock group Good Charlotte. His plans include college and a career as a pediatric surgeon. He'll keep performing, he said, "until I get tired of it."

Which doesn't seem likely to happen too soon. Asked what he misses most on the road, he said, "My performance group back in Rockville. I miss singing and dancing ... with them."

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 35.

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