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Charlotte’s 'living Tiny Tim' has role at Theatre Charlotte

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/09/17/14/sQv5h.Em.138.jpeg|316
    ROBERT LAHSER - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Oliver Heller, a kindergartner at Lansdowne Elementary, plays Tiny Tim in Theatre Charlotte’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Watching him run onstage for the last scene, no one would know he once wasn’t able to walk.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/09/17/14/1sGsuD.Em.138.jpeg|218
    ROBERT LAHSER - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Oliver Heller perches on the shoulder of Marcus Riter, who plays Bob Cratchit.

More Information

  • ‘A Christmas Carol’

    Where: Theatre Charlotte, 501 Queens Road, Charlotte.

    When: Dec. 11-13, 7:30 p.m.

    Dec. 14, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.

    Dec. 15, 2:30 p.m.

    Tickets: $25, $27

    Details: theatrecharlotte.org.



Last week Oliver Heller, sitting onstage with the rest of the Cratchits at a dress rehearsal, delivered the famous line, “God bless us, every one!”

A past cast member, watching the rehearsal at Theatre Charlotte, remarked to another how much he liked the pint-sized kindergartener in the role of Tiny Tim.

“He’s only 5!” the second man said.

What they probably didn’t know is that some are calling Oliver, who goes by Ollie, Charlotte’s living Tiny Tim.

As in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” miracle of the survival – and healing – of the crutch-wielding Tiny Tim, Ollie is a changed boy, too.

Ollie was born with two club feet. Clubfoot is a congenital condition that twists the foot’s shape or position because the tendons connecting the muscles to the bone are shorter than usual, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. From the age of four days until a surgery last year, Ollie had to wear casts, special shoes, a boot or braces.

“It was hard for me to walk,” he said.

Michelle Heller said she found out about her son’s condition after an ultrasound when she was four months pregnant. She said doctors told her that her son would never be able to walk without a limp.

It was a stressful time, she said, because they had to plan for the extra medical care and her husband had lost his job. “At one point, we were living like the Cratchits,” Heller said.

But last year, he had corrective surgery. And after many hours of physical therapy, he has learned to use his legs – without limping.

He’s taking tae kwon do now to strengthen his legs, and he loves running around in the backyard chasing the family dog. Ollie’s also a fan of riding his bicycle, which features Spiderman (although he says Iron Man is his favorite).

When a family friend involved with Theatre Charlotte’s annual “A Christmas Carol” production suggested Ollie try out for Tiny Tim, his mother wasn’t sure if he would agree to audition. “I was surprised when he walked up onstage and said his part, as clear as can be,” she said.

Kevin Campbell, the show’s director, who also plays Ebenezer Scrooge, said Ollie was an easy choice for the part of Tiny Tim.

“Ollie is just an adorable young man,” Campbell said. “He is a bundle of energy.”

His kindergarten teacher at Lansdowne Elementary, Robin Stiff, said that he talks about how excited he is to be in the play, and that it’s made him more confident.

“He just lights up when you ask him about it,” she said.

She noticed that for a recent Thanksgiving project, he wrote that he was thankful for “A Christmas Carol.”

As Tiny Tim, Ollie is in two scenes and says the same famous line in both of them. Christmas is Ollie’s favorite holiday, and getting to be in the Theatre Charlotte production makes Christmas “extra fun” this year, he said.

At 3 foot 6, Ollie fits the “Tiny” part of the role well. “He’s the lightest Tiny Tim I’ve ever met, and it’s my third year doing this,” said Marcus Riter, who plays Bob Cratchit.

Watching Ollie run onstage for the last scene, no one would know he once wasn’t able to walk.

Heller said her son was apprehensive at first about having to use a crutch in the first Tiny Tim scene, because he wanted to show people he can walk on his own.

“I think he was afraid he was going to have to revisit everything he’s been through,” she said.

But she said a pep talk from his older brother gave him the confidence to pretend using a crutch: “He said, ‘See Oliver, you’re OK, and other people can get better too.’”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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