After the death of his mother in childbirth and apparent abandonment by his father, he is driven from his home by circumstances beyond his control. He soon falls in with a gang of kids who teach him the essentials of survival on the street. Betrayal, petty theft, desperate loneliness, and the internal growl of his constant hunger mark his days. Even more crippling perhaps is his poverty of spirit, his lack of hope, his emotional deprivation.
All Oliver wants is to find a place to belong and maybe, just maybe, a family to call his own.
Oliver! The Musical is set among the baby farms and workhouses of mid-nineteenth century England, but for Sherry Johansen, founder of Stars in the Universe and producer of the local performance, the themes were immediately familiar. “We had chosen Oliver! The Musical as our next production and it seemed a perfect match for our group’s talents and abilities,” says Johansen. “One morning I was sitting in church praying about the staging and I found myself wondering how these performances could be a blessing to modern children who find themselves in comparable circumstances.”
A call to several local agencies, including 4KIDS of South Florida and the Heart Gallery of Broward, led to a glorious collaboration. Each of the performances of the musical in May will feature pictures from the Heart Gallery and information about providing hope to the thousands of children in foster care, with donations going directly to the benefit of both organizations.
Doug Sauder, president of 4KIDS of South Florida, explains, “From the beginning, we recognized that the needs of foster children in our community weren’t going to be solved by a single organization, company or foundation. Over the past dozen years, we have seen the benefits of an unprecedented partnership as hundreds of churches, foundations, corporations and individuals have come alongside to solve the foster care crisis in South Florida.”
Life imitates art
Doug continues, “Sherry’s willingness to use her gifts and the dramatic platform provided by her exceptional cast is a model we see replicated throughout South Florida. Some families take in foster children while others come alongside to provide support for them. Some churches donate or staff family-style shelters while other congregations host foster care training classes. Our goal is to provide hope for the 10,000 children that will come into foster care over the next few years. Sherry’s willingness to use the story of Oliver to help change the lives of children in Palm Beach County is one of the reasons we’re going to be able to accomplish that goal.”
A matter of the heart
As poignant evidence of the validity of the maxim, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” Heart Gallery exhibitions around the country present professionally photographed pictures of children in the foster care system who are available for adoption.
“We always appreciate an opportunity to create awareness for children in our community,” says Barbara Schechter, director of The Heart Gallery of Broward County. “We consider ourselves the face of foster care by helping to make forever families. Stars in the Universe is blessing us with this opportunity to let more people know the children in our area who need families and we are thankful on these children’s behalf.”
The face of foster care
The traveling exhibit features children like Angelyca, a 16-year-old girl who loves singing, soccer and cheering from the sidelines. Her photo reveals a beautiful young woman with a contagious smile and clear brown eyes that gaze steadily at the viewer. As with all the children featured, the hope is that someone will see her picture, read her biography and ultimately become her forever family.
In the past, Stars in the Universe has presented Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Tams-Whitmark’s Wizard of Oz. Their shows are celebrated for their show-stopping musical numbers, professional caliber performances, and scenery suitable for Broadway. Sherry Johansen explains, “I am particularly excited about this production. Really good art is meant to move the heart and ultimately to reflect the heart of the Father. I’m watching these children work hard to bless other children in our community.”
From Broadway to Main Street
Sara Tiedemann plays the part of Bet, one of the leads in Oliver! The Musical. Sara shares, “I’m very excited that this play will let lots of people realize that a lot of children don’t have homes and loving families. Like Oliver, they have seen such ugliness and it’s hard for them to understand love.”
For Sara, foster care isn’t a term difficult to define. Foster care is the little girl who shares her bedroom and the baby boy who sleeps in his crib down the hall. “Having two foster children that we can show love and hope and give them a family makes me happy.”
Julia Steffen is Sara’s friend and cast mate. “After I met Sara’s foster sister, I realized ‘Wow! The 500,000 children who need foster families or to be adopted in their forever families are just like me.’ I think that it will be so cool for people to see the story of the children in the play and then go out into the hall and see the faces of the real children who are waiting to be adopted.”
Sherry concludes, “Rather than just hearing a sermon or reading a brochure, I pray that this story moves people to do more – to give more and to be a part of God’s solution for the foster care crisis in our community. I know that God is doing something wonderful through this story of redemption.” Promising a stunning ending sure to impact the audience and the community in a lasting and meaningful way, Sherry’s prayer is that Oliver! The Musical entertains, dazzles, and forever changes the audiences that share it.
For more information about the May 21st–23rd performances of Oliver! The Musical at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton, visit www.StarsInTheUniverse.com.
For more about 4KIDS of South Florida, visit www.4KIDSofSFL.org or call 561-869-5770.
For more about The Heart Gallery of Broward, visit www.HeartGalleryOfBroward.org.