By Lynn Geyer
Lakewood Playhouse presents a new twist on an old favorite: “Tom Sawyer, the Musical.”
Who hasn’t thrilled to the unwashed childhood hero who got away with skipping school, tripping lightly to the ole fishin’ hole with his best friend, Huck, to catch the elusive big one, falling in love for the first (or second) time and finally, finding the pot of gold in the great cave?
Those were thrilling exploits for Mark Twain’s pubescent youth with a glib tongue and winning smile. Ken Ludwig and Don Schlitz have enhanced those adventures by adding music and lyrics to the story of boyhood. They are very good lyrics to very hum-able music making the production exciting and enjoyable for all ages.
This is the Christmas offering at Lakewood Playhouse. As Managing Artistic Director Marcus Walker said, “You all must be tired of all the Santa and reindeer stuff; we wanted to give you something different.”
And they succeeded!
“Tom Sawyer” is, simply, a delight to the eye and ear. There is a huge cast of 30 crowded into the intimate theatre, singing and dancing and just having a whole lot of fun, which spills over the audience like Aunt Polly’s hot apple pie and just makes everybody happy.
Director Marty Mackenzie has done a splendid job with the cast, most of whom are well under 18. He moves his actors around the small stage with alacrity. His best work was with the casting; it is perfect. Everyone does a better than average job, especially the boys. This is unusual because it’s most often the young ladies who steal the show. However, this is a boy’s show from the Robin Hood sword play to the sworn-secret-keeping oath.
Mackenzie’s work is enhanced by Lisa Sutter’s musical direction and Tani Wright’s choreography. Christian Doyle directed the fight scenes. Frances Rankos does a wonderful job with the costumes, from Huck Finn’s straw hat right through the girls’ pantaloons. Kris Zetterstrom gives us an honest, sometimes creepy, lighting design. Larry Hagerman designed one of the most interesting chameleon-like sets which enables the limited acting space to cover each aspect of the small Missouri town.
Then there’s the cast.
As mentioned, the girl (and women) chorus members are lovely. Their singing is good, their acting is good and they grace the stage with aplomb. Sariah Brumet plays Susie Rogers, Shauna Phillips is her sister Muriel and Elva Munz is their mother, Jessica. Shawnee Smith is Sabina Temple, Alleena Tribble is her mother Naomi, Stephanie Huber plays Alice Harper, Daneeka Jennings is her sister Lucy, Nicole Locket is their mother Sereny, Haley Rue is Amy Lawrence, Angela Thomas is her mother Martha, Gabriela Aleman plays Luisa Bellamy and Jen Ankrum plays her mother Sally. Few of them have lines, but they react to all that is happening and are quite believable.
The men town-folk include Bill Robinson who doubles as Lanyard Bellamy and Pap, Darrel Shephard who plays Sheriff Hartley Lawrence, Jack Stillmaker as Gideon Temple and Doc Rob and Jacob Titus as Lemuel Dobbins and Muff.
The boy chorus is wonderful! These young men, all of whom are still in high school, do a fantastic job of singing and dancing. It is such a pleasure to see good things come out of today’s youth when usually one hears only gang related problems. Here is the real gang: teen-aged boys having good fun while entertaining others. Theatre is a great teacher and the Playhouse’s youth theatre is an excellent training ground for young talent.
The boys are Jaron Boggs as Ben Rogers, Colin Briskey as Joe Harper, Gabriel Hess as George Bellamy, Joseph Allegro as his brother Lyle and Devin Smith as Alfred Temple.
All of these young men are extremely talented, however, Briskey stands out. He is so agile in his dance, it’s almost acrobatic and he reacts to everything going on around him.
David Jensen is Judge Josiah Thatcher; he is appropriately staunch and sturdy. Robin Sutton plays the Widow Douglas. Thomas McDonal is the snide tattle-tale Sidney Sawyer; McDonal plays him very realistically. Tim Takechi does a very nice job as the evil Injun Joe.
Set Designer Larry Hagerman steps on stage to render a Reverend Sprague who will drive the sin right out of you!
Kat Christensen is the charming Becky Thatcher. She is an extremely talented young woman who has never failed to give an outstanding performance.
Karen Christensen is Aunt Polly. She plays her with a firm hand and a soft heart. Christensen has the best singing voice in the show, and this is a tough call, because there are many good singers in the production. However, Christensen’s does stand out.
Then there’s Huckleberry Finn, played to the utmost by very talented Aaron Berryhill. He sings and dances his way through his role like it was written just for him.
Finally, we have the amazing performance of Jonathan Hogue as Tom Sawyer. Hogue is Tom from his leadership of the boys to his blossoming romance to his cunning ways around any obstacle. He sings well, he dances well, he acts well. Simple put, Hogue shines on stage.
“Tom Sawyer, The Musical” continues at the Lakewood Playhouse through January 17 (with a holiday break) at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. There is a Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday December 17 at 8 p.m.
In case you missed “A Tuna Christmas,” the collaborated effort between Lakewood Playhouse and Tacoma Little Theatre while it was at the Playhouse, you still have a time to catch this very funny show at TLT through December 20.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
Wow!! What a talented cast in “Tom Sawyer, The Musical” and what a great Holiday treat for the whole family. Mark Twain would have been proud.