Small and spunky, Lodi's Becca Crabtree hardly looks like your average London street urchin.
But the 8-year-old will make her debut as Oliver Twist in the musical "Oliver!" this weekend at the Long Theatre on the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton. The show opens Friday.
Not only does Crabtree have the challenge of convincing audiences that she is the legendary Charles Dickens character, but she must also play the part of a boy.
"You know how a girl would do it but you have to walk differently and stand differently as a boy," Crabtree said. "It's strange."
It's all part of the Lodi Theatre for Youth, a nonprofit program that offers an intensive six-week musical theater summer camp to children ages 8 to 21. In the program, students are trained in elements like acting, singing, stage movement, dance and set construction. Then they apply those skills in producing the production of Lionel Bart's musical, "Oliver!"
Shows are directed by program founder Rex Reynolds, who is assisted by vocal coach Robert Tan and musical director Manny Dayao, who leads the orchestra.
In previous years, the Lodi Theatre for Youth has produced musical theater staples like "The Sound of Music," "Annie" and "Brigadoon," which were performed at Hutchins Street Square.
This year signals a change of venue.
The decision to move venues came when the chair of the drama department at UOP invited Reynolds to use the UOP campus for its summer camp. He had seen their previous summer productions and was impressed with the group's work.
"It's an honor to receive this invitation and we are excited for the participants' experience of working in a university theater setting," said Reynolds.
Becca Crabtree performs the role of Oliver in the musical production of "Oliver!" at the University of the Pacific on Wednesday. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)
This year's cast includes 27 young people ranging in age from 8 to 15. Many are returning like Adrienne Reynolds, who plays the Artful Dodger, and Elyse Muscha, the group's oldest member, who plays Nancy.
Others like Crabtree and Ben Gibson, who plays Fagin, are new.
"I had no idea I would get this part. I thought I'd get a chorus part or just an easy part. But it's been really fun and I've learned a lot," Crabtree said.
What has she picked up over the six weeks?
"I've learned how to make all the entrances and that it's important to be on time and not to mess with the props," Crabtree smiled.
Ben Gibson said he had some experience in theater before at St. Peter's Community Theatre, but learned about set construction here. "The cast didn't paint the sets at St. Peter's. We get to do that," Gibson said.
Ben Gibson performs the role of Fagin in the musical production of "Oliver!" (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)
For regulars like Reynolds and Muscha who have been in the Lodi Theatre for Youth since its inception four years ago, the chance to perform in front of people brings them back year after year.
"It's a thrill being on stage. You can't compare the way that the audience reacts to you to anything," Muscha said.
"Oliver!" plays Friday through Sunday at the Long Theatre, UOP, Stockton. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 for students and seniors. For tickets call, 946-2867 or visit www.tix.com.