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Young actors sing, dance to bring 'Oliver!' to life

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Among a cast of 50 people, 20 orphans played by area children will take the stage Friday, Nov. 15, to help bring Pequot Lakes Community Theater’s “Oliver!” to life.

The orphans sing and dance their way to making the production’s energy match their own enthusiasm.

Elaina Tanner, a fifth-grader, plays Oliver. While she’s a happy young lady out of costume, on-stage she’s an orphaned little boy in London.

Tanner tried out for the part because she hopes to be an actress one day. Acting like a boy wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be.

“I have to think about what kind of personality Oliver has in (each) scene,” she said.

She’s having a great time acting, which is evidenced by the fact that she’s often reminded to stop smiling. After all, Oliver is a down-and-out orphan.

“It makes it a little harder because I’m used to smiling a lot,” she said.

She said the British accent wasn’t too hard to learn, either.

“I have listened to my sister for a long time. It’s kind of what she likes to do sometimes,” Tanner said. Her sister, who plays another orphan, smiled and said it was true.

Cole Kaneski, 11, is the Artful Dodger. “Oliver!” is his third community theater production, but his first with a solo.

He described Dodger: “He’s a pickpocket, and he sort of is always trying to serve up trouble. That or stay away from it.”

Kaneski said the part’s not too hard to play, though — in a previous play he was cast as an evil dwarf.

“So I sort of have experience as a bad character. I like them better. Easier to play for some reason,” he said with a smirk.

Kaneski acknowledged, though, that Dodger isn’t all bad.

“He has to pick pockets for a living or rob people, (but) he would be a good person if he was raised a different way. He isn’t really too bad,” Kaneski said, adding that Dodger simply does what he has to in order to get by.

Kaneski and other young actors agreed that being able to be a part of a play with lots of other children makes it more fun.

Aside from the roles of Oliver and Dodger, most of the orphans are singers and dancers for many of the production’s most famous songs, like “Food, Glorious Food” and “Pick a Pocket.”

“My favorite part is when we sing ‘Food, Glorious Food,’” said Hunter Johnson, 10, another orphan. “It’s a really fun song, jumping around and running around.”

Wendy DeGeest coordinated the choreography for all the production’s songs, and it includes lots of movement and use of props, including handkerchiefs, canes and hats. The children have spent numerous hours learning and practicing the moves.

Director Gary Hirsch said the kids bring the cute factor.

“These kids are adorable. You won’t be able to criticize their steps, moves, anything. You will look at them and you will be entranced,” Hirsch said.

He said the kids have been great to work with, and have shown great attendance for a fairly rigorous rehearsal schedule that began weeks ago.

Orphans agree that the community should come see the play.

“It’s really fun and I think a lot of people will enjoy it,” said orphan Ali Sommerness.

“We worked really hard on it,” said Cecilia Sechser, another orphan. Her sister, Anna, agrees, and said there’s a surprise at the end for the audience.

“You have to come see the play to find out what it is,” she said.

Every member of the cast and crew has been hard at work to bring the play together for the community, opening Friday, Nov. 15, at the Pequot Lakes High School Theater. Tickets can be reserved by calling 218-568-9200 or purchased at the door beginning one hour before show time.

Performances are Nov. 15-17 and 22-24. Friday and Saturday shows will be at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinee shows will begin at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (age 60 and older) and $8 for youth (age 18 and younger). Tickets are for general admission seating.