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Great enthusiastic noise

Lakewood Playhouse's "Oliver!" delivers a big show

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Charles Dickens' Oliver! is why I'm in theater. It's not that I love the play to death or anything, but many moons ago my brother ran follow spot for a children's production of the musical through Tacoma Little Theatre, and my whole family was doomed. So it's always fun to see local houses roll it out, and Lakewood's is as fun as any - if you don't find yourself Dickens-ed out by the half-dozen versions of A Christmas Carol floating around the South Sound.

Oliver! is a big show. It doesn't require epic production values or huge dance numbers - just bigness. Big cast, big sound. Take, for example, the iconic opening number, "Food, Glorious Food."  No matter how professional your production, or skilled your talent, it's difficult to find two-dozen children who can tromp around grumpily and sing beautiful harmonies at the same time. So instead, the song's design lends itself to a controlled cacophony. These are semi-starved, unhappy orphans, grumpy over gruel, making a great, enthusiastic noise.

The theme carries throughout. Street scenes, bar scenes, creepy funeral parlors, children, criminals and drunks - noisy fun trumps delicate beauty for much of the score and script.

It's difficult to do a show like this in a space like Lakewood Playhouse. I found myself frequently wishing for a few more musicians to fill up the orchestra, or a couple of hanging microphones to boost the youthful voices. Something to bring a little more audible life to the London underbelly.

What lacked in volume, however, found its balance in talent scattered throughout the cast. Coleman Hagerman, last seen starring in Something Wicked This Way Comes, puts on a thoroughly entertaining show as Oliver's guide to larceny, The Artful Dodger. Like all worthwhile Dodgers, a lot of work was clearly put into hat manipulation training, and Hagerman brings his own quirky physicality to the role.

Deya Ozburn's Nancy provides further highlights, leading a few raucous numbers with a voluminous singing voice, while capturing the complex emotions at play in the lover of the villain. And Steve Tarry rolls out a much more sympathetic old crook than the last time I saw him - as Richard Nixon.

Above all, Oliver! is an ensemble show, and director Casi Wilkerson's lengthy experience in theater education serves her well in wrangling a host of children into an energetic and entertaining crew of chipper miscreants, centered around Mason Lahd's vulnerable but determined Oliver Twist. Mixed in with the various adult standouts they tie together for an entertaining Oliver!

[Lakewood Playhouse, through Dec. 23, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, $22-$28, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. SW, 253.588.0042]

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