Thursday, May 5, 2016

May I have some more, please?

Claire vg rocks Oliver!
by Christopher Key

Audiences will no doubt consider themselves at home as the Lynden Performing Arts Guild opens the beloved musical Oliver! this week.  Based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens,
Lionel Bart wrote the book, music and lyrics, prettifying it more than a bit for the stage.  It opened in London’s West End in 1960 and went on to a long run on Broadway before becoming one of the most popular musicals for community theatre.

Directors Ruth Posthuma and Tina Miller understand that when you put a couple of dozen adorable kids onstage, you’re guaranteed full houses.  That helps make up for a backstage scene that probably resembles a change of government in a banana republic.  Add a plethora of stagehands manipulating a complex set and it’s a wonder the directors aren’t in an assisted living facility.  Permanently.  The real magic of theatre is that an actual show emerges from such chaos and, in this case, it’s a winner.

The title role is double-cast.  I saw Sagelynn Dennison in the role on preview night and she’s about as good as it gets.  Invincibly innocent and with a sweet voice, Dennison does exactly what she’s supposed to do: steal the show from the adults.  Sarah Hoekema will play the role in alternating performances.

Sagelynn Dennison and Allison Visser play Oliver and the Artful Dodger in LPAG's production of Oliver!  Photo credit - Christopher Key

As usual in community theatre, a lot more girls auditioned than boys and some of them ended up in male roles.  This is not a bad thing.  Allison Visser, who plays the Artful Dodger, does so with a confident stage presence far beyond her years.

Playwright Bart, for better or worse, doesn’t give the kids much stage time.  For which the adult actors are immensely grateful.   Oliver! offers some of the best roles in musical theatre for the big kids and they take full advantage.

Amy Keiper plays Nancy.  Photo credit - Christopher Key

Amy Keiper is notable both for portraying an iconic battered woman and for her professional-level singing voice.  Her abuser, Bill Sykes, is played by 16-year-old Gabe Adams, who is not only genuinely frightening, but comes across as a much older actor and steals most of the scenes he’s in.

The role of Fagin is one of the places where Bart Bowdlerized Dickens.  Be that as it may, Leif Egertson plays him with gusto as a charming rogue rather than an evil villain.  Larry Phlaum personifies Mr. Bumble and the inimitable Carol May is, literally, a scream as Widow Corney.

This production offers more delights than I have room to enumerate and among them are the technical magicians.  Musical Director Celeste Larson leads a whimsical orchestra that perfectly backs the singers.  That Byzantine set I mentioned earlier is the work of designers Wayne Vogel and Chris Jones and the set changes are as much fun to watch as the show itself.

LPAG president Susan Duncan and Ashlie Blaske have the kids dancing like pros and Child Wrangler Karin Hoekema should probably get a bow at the curtain call.  Gavin Wynne is responsible for the moody lighting design which is, unfortunately, difficult for photographers and why you’re not seeing more visuals.

Ann Balfour, one of the true props geniuses in local theatre, has spread her wings into the costuming aerodrome and proves herself equally brilliant.

Oliver! plays May 5 – 22 at the Claire vg Thomas Theatre, 655 Front Street in Lynden.  The box office is open 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Tuesday – Friday at (360) 354-4425.  Tickets may also be purchased online at

I trust you appreciate that I never once said, “This is a Dickens of a show!”

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