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Fishnapped at Olympia Family Theater

A world premiere musical

(Back row) Mark Alford, Ryan Holmberg with Blubber, Justin Valdez, Rynelle Bircher, (front row) Vanessa Postil, Megan Wakefield, Jesse Morrow and Mandy Ryle star in Fishnapped this weekend at Olympia Family Theater. Courtesy photo

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What a wonderful play! Fishnapped at Olympia Family Theater is a wild and rocking, sweet and touching musical ostensibly for kids but a treat for all ages. And it is a world premiere locally written and produced. It was written by Amy Shephard and Andrew Gordon with music and lyrics by Daven Tillinghast, and directed by Jeff Painter.

Welcome to soccer camp in Saskatoon, Canada, home of the Squirrels. Camper and reluctant soccer player Claire (Megan Wakefield) feels like a misfit, unwanted. Her only human friend is Sammy (Jesse Morrow), and she's not even sure she can trust Sammy to stand by her; so she clings to her only other and really true friend, a pet goldfish named Blubber.

But right before the big game, someone steals Blubber. Blubber has been fishnapped and in the time-honored mystery tradition, the hunt for the fishnapper ensues. The fishnapper has to be one of the campers. Or maybe even Grandma, the coach (Rynelle Bircher). It could be Kyle the star player (Mark Alford) or even Claire's big sister Astrid (Vanessa Postil), or Reggie (Justin Valdez), Harper (Mandy Ryle), or maybe even Sammy.

As the campers question one another, much is revealed about teenage vulnerability, about insecurity and the dread of not fitting in. Kyle thinks the way to earn friendship and respect is through braggadocio and prowess on the soccer field. Astrid is the one who cheers everyone on; she loves her little sister, Claire, but is embarrassed by her lack of soccer skills and her bringing Blubber to camp. Harper is the brainy one and the only one who can identify with Claire's sense of being an outcast. These insights into human nature emerge through the medium of comedy, rousing punk rock music and dance (choreographed by Shephard).

Every cast member is good. Standouts are Ryle and Postil, and most especially Alford. The part of Kyle seems to have been written for him. Or more accurately, Alford makes the part seem like that. His exuberance and his stop-action facial expressions put me in mind of Steve Martin's "Wild and Crazy Guy."

Also wonderful to watch is Ryan Holmberg, the onstage puppeteer manipulating and voicing for Blubber, created by puppet artist Jamie Jenson. Holmberg's expressions mimic those of the puppet with superb comic timing, and his wordless sound effects (goldfish language?) are precious.

Jill Carter's set design is delightfully lighthearted and attractive.

The four-piece band musically directed by Stephanie Claire must be acknowledged. They are:  Bob McKenzieSullivan, keyboard; Theresa McKenzieSullivan, percussion; Matt Fearon, bass; and Ted Ryle, guitar.

And finally comes the whodunnit twist. Kids in the audience are invited to join the cast members in the lobby during intermission and grill them about whom they suspect of being the fishnapper. Grownups are allowed to participate, too. In this way, the audience helps determine the end, which can possibly be different in every performance.

Fishnapped, 7 p.m., Thursday-Friday; 2 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, through June 4, $19 adults, $16 military, $13 youth, 612 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.570.1638, olyft.org

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