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Joshua Park as Tom Sawyer


Young Adventurers: What makes a classic a classic?

Young Adventurers

By Alex Browne
Arts Reporter
Feb 20 2007

What makes a classic a classic?

Mark Twain’s typically pithy, sometimes acerbic novel Adventures of Tom Sawyer endures because its characters and situations are still accessible today.

The setting may be St. Petersburg, Missouri, on the shores of the Mississippi, in 1840 – but children can readily identify with the likes of enterprising, mischievous Tom, lackadaisical Huck Finn, coquettish Becky Thatcher and Tom’s obnoxious, tattletale step-brother Sidney.

True to life, too, is the child’s-eye view of the apparently arbitrary nature of the adult world, from scolding yet soft-hearted Aunt Polly and kindly Judge Thatcher, to alcoholic Muff Potter and Injun Joe, tragically cast by circumstance and prejudice as a ‘villain’.

The truth of Twain’s vision of childhood makes Ken Ludwig and Don Schlitz’ Broadway musical adaptation a natural for the major 10th anniversary production of the Young People’s Theatre Company of Surrey, following on such productions as Peter Pan, Charlotte’s Web, The Prince and the Pauper, Winnie The Pooh, The Boyfriend, Once Upon A Mattress and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.

“It’s absolutely universal,” SYTCO’s artistic director and founder Susan Pendleton said.

“We’ve all gone on adventures, like Tom.

“Harry Potter is wonderful, and the books have got kids back to reading, but they’re still not real. With Tom Sawyer there’s always something to laugh at and identify with – always something that rings true.”

The show brings together 32 young actors ranging in age from eight to 17 – drawn from both SYTCO’s junior and senior companies.

Cast as Tom is Jeremy Lord, with Thomas Watkin as Huckleberry Finn, Sabrielle McCurdy-Foreman as Aunt Polly, Mark Skepasts as Sidney Sawyer, Amie Pendleton-Knoll as Becky Thatcher, Shaun McHale as Injun Joe, Zachary Wood as Judge Thatcher and Shandel Riedlinger as Widow Douglas.

“It was going to be a junior show, but I realized it was just too difficult for the juniors alone,” Pendleton said,

“It is a Broadway show, and a lot more of a challenge than one would have thought.”

Pendleton notes Tom Sawyer follows in a SYTCO tradition of championing lesser-known shows – HONK!, Seussical and Once On This Island were B.C. premieres while Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking and Ronia The Robbers’ Daughter were actually North American premieres.

“Tom Sawyer didn’t last very long on Broadway, but that was at a time everything was competing with Rent. Seussical didn’t do too well either, but it’s since become one of the most performed shows for student, university or community productions.”

Music for the show is directed by Tim Tucker and choreography is supplied again by the ubiquitous Carol Seitz.

“I like the music in this show a lot,” Pendleton said.

“It’s not as heavily choregraphed

as some of our other shows, but it’s a pretty toe-tapping, knee-slapping score.”

Biggest stretch for the young actors has been imagining themselves back in a world before television, online chatting and Nintendo.

“I think they’re beginning to get the idea of the relaxed life along the Mississippi.

“The kids were fine going about barefoot – for them the big deal was going fishing.”

What’s next for SYTCO? Pendleton hasn’t made any announcements yet, but she admits she is contemplating several options, including taking a break or winding down the enterprise entirely.

She does acknowledge the stress of producing full-fledged, fully costumed, professional-style stage shows with young people for 10 seasons has been wearing.

“You get a few parents each year who are wonderful and end up doing everything, but they burn out,” she said.

“I started doing this because I was driving my kids and several other children to do shows in Richmond, since there was no youth theatre company here, and after a while I thought, hello, I have a masters degree in educational theatre. (Pendleton’s degree is from New York University; she also has a masters degree in music from the University of Memphis).

“I think there’s a definite need for a youth theatre company, but sometimes I think it would be nice if some other organization took this on as a project.”

The Young People’s Theatre Company of Surrey (SYTCO) will present The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Feb. 24-25, March 3-4, and March 9-11; evening performances at 7 p.m. Sunday performances are 2 p.m. only. For March 10, a matinee will be held at 2 p.m., as well as an evening performance at 7 p.m.

Venue is the Wheelhouse Theatre at Earl Marriott Secondary, 15751 16 Ave.

For tickets, contact Kelly, 604-767-8707.

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