Oliver! is a British musical, with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. The musical is based upon the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
It premiered in the West End in 1960, enjoying a long run, a successful Broadway production in 1963 and further tours and revivals. It was made into a musical film in 1968. A new London production opened in January 2009.
Oliver! was the first musical adaptation of a Charles Dickens work to become a stage hit, one of the reasons why it attracted attention. There had been two previous Dickens musicals in the 1950s, both of them television adaptations of A Christmas Carol, but the dramatic story of Oliver Twist was the first Dickens work to be presented as a successful stage musical. Another reason for the success of the musical was the revolving stage set, an innovation designed by Sean Kenny.
The show launched the careers of several child actors, including Davy Jones, later of The Monkees; Phil Collins, later of Genesis; Alan Paul, later of The Manhattan Transfer; and Tony Robinson, who later played the role of Baldrick in the television series Blackadder. The singer Steve Marriott (Small Faces, Humble Pie) also featured in early line-ups, eventually graduating to the role of Artful Dodger in the West End production.
The plot of Dickens' original novel is considerably simplified for the purposes of the musical, with Fagin being represented more as a comic character than as a villain, and large portions of the latter part of the story being completely left out. (It may well be that Bart based his musical on David Lean's film, rather than Dickens' book). Although Dickens' novel has been called antisemitic in its portrayal of the Jew Fagin as evil, the production by Bart (himself a Jew) was more sympathetic and featured many Jewish actors in leading roles: Ron Moody (Ronald Moodnik), Georgia Brown (Lilian Klot), and Martin Horsey.
The musical opens in the workhouse, as the half-starved orphan boys are entering the enormous lunchroom for dinner ("Food Glorious Food"). They are fed only gruel. Nine year old Oliver (actually identified as thirteen in the libretto but generally played as much younger) gathers up the courage to ask for more. He is immediately apprehended and is told to gather his belongings by Mr Bumble and the Widow Corney, the heartless and greedy caretakers of the workhouse ("Oliver!"). Mr.Bumble and Widow Corney are left alone, and Mr. Bumble begins to make amorous advances. Mrs. Corney pretends to resent his attentions in "I Shall Scream!", ends up on Mr Bumble's lap, kissing him. Oliver comes back and is promptly sold ("Boy for Sale") and apprenticed to an undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. He and his wife taunt Oliver with the song "That's Your Funeral". He is sent to sleep in the basement with the coffins, something which makes him visibly uncomfortable. ("Where is Love?").
The next morning bully Noah Claypole, who oversees Oliver's work, badmouths Oliver's dead mother, whereupon Oliver begins pummeling him. Mrs Sowerberry and her daughter, Charlotte run in, and become hysterical. Mr. Bumble is sent for, and he and the Sowerberrys lock Oliver in a coffin, but during all the commotion Oliver escapes. After a week on the run, he meets the Artful Dodger, a boy wearing an oversize coat and a top hat. He beckons Oliver to join him with "Consider Yourself". Dodger is, unknown to Oliver, a boy pickpocket, and he invites Oliver to come and live in Fagin's lair. Fagin is a criminal, and he is in the business of teaching young boys to pick pockets. Oliver, however, is completely unaware of any criminality, and believes that the boys make handkerchiefs rather than steal them. Oliver is introduced to Fagin and all the other boy pickpockets, and is taught their ways in "You've got to Pick a Pocket or Two".
The next day, Oliver meets Nancy, the live-in girlfriend of the evil, terrifying Bill Sikes, a burglar whose abuse she endures because she loves him. Nancy and Oliver take an instant liking to each other, and Nancy shows motherly affection toward him. Bet, Nancy's younger sister (merely her best friend in the 1968 film and in Dickens' novel), is also with her. Nancy, along with Bet and the boys, sing about how they don't mind a bit of danger in "It's a Fine Life". Dodger humorously starts pretending to be an upper-class citizen, ("I'd Do Anything"), along with Fagin, Oliver, Nancy, Bet, and the boys mocking high society. Nancy and Bet leave and Oliver is sent out with the other boys on his first pickpocketing job ("Be Back Soon"), though he still believes that they are going to teach him how to make handkerchiefs. The Dodger, another boy pickpocket named Charley Bates, and Oliver decide to stick together, and when Dodger and Charley rob Mr. Brownlow, a wealthy old man, they run off, leaving Oliver to be arrested for the crime.
The Broadway version of Oliver! at the Imperial Theatre
In the Three Cripples pub, Nancy is called upon to sing an old tavern song ("Oom Pah Pah"). Brutal housebreaker Bill Sikes makes his first appearance, and disperses the crowd, ("My Name"). It emerges that Nancy is in love with him. Dodger runs in and tells Fagin about Oliver being captured before being subsequently cleared of the crime and taken in by Mr. Brownlow. Fagin and Bill decide to kidnap Oliver to protect the whereabouts of their den. Nancy, who pities Oliver, refuses to help, but Bill physically abuses her and forces her into obedience. In spite of this, Nancy still loves Bill, and believes he loves her too, ("As Long As He Needs Me").
The next morning, at Mr. Brownlow's house, in Bloomsbury, Ms. Bedwin, the housekeeper (who sings in the stage version, but not in the film), sings to Oliver, ("Where Is Love? (Reprise)", and Oliver wakes up. Mr. Brownlow and Dr. Grimwig discuss Oliver's condition. They come to the conclusion that he is well enough to go outside, and Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver on an errand- he asks him to return some books to the library. From his window, Oliver sees a group of street vendors and joins them in song once he steps outside ("Who Will Buy?"). As the vendors leave, Nancy and Bill show up and grab Oliver. They bring him back to Fagin's den, where Nancy saves Oliver from a beating from Sikes after the boy tries to flee but is stopped. Nancy angrily and remorsefully reviews their dreadful life, but Bill maintains that any living is better than none. Fagin tries to act as an intermediary, ("It's A Fine Life (reprise)"). When Sikes and Nancy leave, Fagin, who also wants out, ponders his future in the humorous song "Reviewing the Situation". But, every time he thinks of a good reason for going straight, he reconsiders and decides to remain a criminal.
Back at the workhouse, Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, now unhappily married, meet up with the dying pauper Old Sally and another old lady, who tell them that Oliver's mother, Agnes, left a gold locket (indicating that he comes from a rich family) when she died in childbirth. Old Sally stole the locket and now gives it to the Widow Corney. Mr Bumble and Widow Corney, realizing that Oliver may have wealthy relatives, visit Mr. Brownlow in order to profit from any reward given out for information of him ("Oliver! (reprise)"). He throws them out, knowing that they have suppressed evidence until they could get a reward for it. Brownlow looks at the picture inside the locket, a picture of his daughter, and realizes that Oliver, who knows nothing of his family history, is actually his grandson (Oliver's mother had disappeared after having been left pregnant by her lover, who jilted her).
Nancy, terrified for Oliver and feeling guilty, visits Brownlow and promises to deliver Oliver to him safely that night at midnight on London Bridge - if Brownlow does not bring the police or ask any questions. She then ponders again about Bill in "As Long As He Needs Me (reprise)". Bill suspects that Nancy is up to something. That night, he follows her as she sneaks Oliver out, although in the stage version it is never made clear how he knew exactly when to do this. At London Bridge, he confronts them, knocks Oliver temporarily unconscious, and brutally clubs Nancy to death (in alternative stagings of the show, he either strangles her, stabs her, or slits her throat, but the musical's original libretto follows the Dickens novel in having her beaten to death). He then grabs Oliver, who has since revived, and runs offstage with him, presumably back to the hideout to ask Fagin for getaway money. Mr. Brownlow, who had been late keeping the appointment, arrives and discovers Nancy's body. A large crowd soon forms, among them the distraught Bet. Bullseye, Bill's fierce terrier, returns to the scene of the crime and the crowd prepares to follow him to the hideout. After they exit Fagin and his boys, terrified at the idea of being apprehended, leave their hideout in panic. Not finding Bill at the hideout, the anxious crowd, now whipped up into a thirst for justice, returns to the Thames Embankment, when suddenly Bill appears at the top of the bridge, holding Oliver as hostage and threatening to kill him if the crowd tries to take him. Unseen by Bill, two policemen sneak up on him. One of them shoots Bill to death and the other grabs Oliver as Bill releases him. Oliver is then reunited with Mr. Brownlow. The mob, still eager for vengeance against this underground criminal network, begins a mad search for Fagin. When one of the members of the crowd suggest that he may be at the Three Cripples pub, they disperse offstage in order to track him down. As the crowd exits, Fagin sneaks on and sings a reprisal of "Reviewing the Situation," wherein he decides that, after years of pickpocketing and training junior pickpocketers, the time has never looked better for him to straighten out his life.
Overture - Orchestra
Food, Glorious Food - Orphans
Oliver! - Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney
I Shall Scream! - Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney
Boy for Sale - Mr. Bumble
That's Your Funeral - Mr. Sowerberry, Mrs. Sowerberry, and Mr. Bumble
Where Is Love? - Oliver
Consider Yourself - The Artful Dodger, Oliver, and Chorus
You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two - Fagin and Fagin's Gang
It's a Fine Life - Nancy, Bet, and Fagin's Gang
I'd Do Anything - The Artful Dodger, Nancy, Oliver, Bet, Fagin, and Fagin's Gang
Be Back Soon - Fagin, The Artful Dodger, Oliver and Fagin's Gang
Oom-Pah-Pah - Nancy and Chorus
My Name - Bill Sikes
As Long As He Needs Me - Nancy
Where is Love? (Reprise) - Mrs. Bedwin
Who Will Buy? - Oliver, Sellers, and Chorus
It's a Fine Life (Reprise) - Bill Sikes, Nancy, Fagin, and The Artful Dodger
Reviewing the Situation - Fagin
Oliver! (reprise) - Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney
As Long As He Needs Me (Reprise) - Nancy
Reviewing the Situation (Reprise) - Fagin
Finale (Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, and I'd Do Anything) - Entire Cast (including Nancy and Sykes)
Original West End production
The original London production of Oliver! opened in the New Theatre (now the Noel Coward Theatre) on June 30, 1960 and ran for 2618 performances.Among the original cast were Ron Moody as Fagin, Georgia Brown as Nancy, and Barry Humphries in a small comic role as Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker. Keith Hamshere (the original Oliver) is now a Hollywood still photographer (Star Wars etc.); Martin Horsey (the original Dodger) works as an actor/director and is the author of the play L'Chaim. The part of Nancy was originally written for Alma Cogan, who despite being unable to commit to the production, steered a great many producers to invest in the production.
The production was revived in December 1983 for a limited 5 week Christmas season at the Aldwych Theatre, directed by Peter Coe. Ron Moody returned as Fagin, with Jackie Marks as Nancy, Linal Haft as Bill Sikes, Meg Johnson as Mrs Corney, Peter Bayliss as Mr Bumble, and Geoffrey Toone as Mr Brownlow. Oliver was played by Anthony Pearson, and the Artful Dodger by David Garlick. The original Sean Kenny designed sets were used.
The musical previewed in the U.S. with a 1962 national tour (whose cast was preserved on recording), and the first Broadway production opened at the Imperial Theatre on January 6, 1963 and closed on November 14, 1964 after 774 performances. The American production had child actor Bruce Prochnik in the title role alongside Georgia Brown, reprising her West End turn as Nancy, and Clive Revill, replacing Ron Moody, as Fagin. While the national tour had young actor Michael Goodman as The Artful Dodger, the Broadway transfer had him replaced by a young Davy Jones. The original Broadway production was a critical success and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Actor (Revill), Actress (Brown) and Featured Actor (Jones). The show won Tonys for Sean Kenny's Scenic Design, Donald Pippin's musical direction and Lionel Bart's score.
A 1965 revival directed by Peter Coe ran at the Martin Beck Theatre for 64 performances. The production featured Victor Stiles as Oliver, Robin Ramsay as Fagin, Maura K. Wedge as Nancy, Joey Baio as The Artful Dodger, Alan Crofoot as Mr. Bumble, Danny Sewell as Bill Sikes, Bram Nossen as Mr. Brownlow, and Dodi Protero as Mrs. Bedwin.
1983 saw a new production of Oliver as the first musical produced by the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, as part of its inaugural season as a self-producing theatre.
In 1984 there was a short lived Broadway revival of 17 performances and 13 previews with Ron Moody reprising his West End and film role as Fagin and Patti LuPone as Nancy, with direction again by Peter Coe.
1994 London revival
In 1994, Oliver! was revived for the London Palladium with some additional music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. It was directed by Sam Mendes, with Graham Gill as the resident director, and featured Jonathan Pryce as Fagin, Sally Dexter as Nancy (Alison Sevitt understudying), James Villiers (Mr Brownlow) and Miles Anderson as Bill Sikes. Later in the run Jon Lee, Tom Fletcher and Andrew James Michel played the title role and Adam Searles played the Artful Dodger. Danielle McCormack appeared as Bet.
The show was a lavish affair, with designs by Anthony Ward, new and fresh orchestrations by William David Brohn and a move from its original intimate melodramatic feel to a cinematic and symphonic feel to accommodate an audience that was raised on the motion picture.
Main actors in the original 1994 production:
Jonathan Pryce as Fagin Sally Dexter as Nancy Miles Anderson as Bill Sikes Julia Deakin as Mrs Sowerberry David Delve as Mr Sowerberry Jenny Galloway as Widow Corney James Villiers as Mr Brownlow
Australian tour (2002-04)
The Australian tour was a successful trip through Sydney, Melbourne, and Singapore from 2002 to 2004. The show, which mirrored Sam Mendes' production, was recreated by Graham Gill. John Waters (the actor, not to be confused with John Waters, the director) portrayed Fagin, Tamsin Carroll was Nancy, and the production also featured Stuart Wagstaff, Steve Bastoni and Madison Orr and Keegan Joyce in the title role, which was rotated between the two. The role of the Artful Dodger was shared between Matthew Waters and Tim Matthews. Both of the children's ensemble casts earned good notices.
North American tour
A North American tour began in 2003, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Networks. It ran till March 2005 and played most major theatrical venues in the U.S. and one in Canada. The show was directed by the London team which managed the Sam Mendes version in London and the Australian tour, with Graham Gill as director.
In October 2008 Columbia Artists Theatricals mounted a new North American National tour directed by Clayton Philips, starring Zachary Levovitz as Fagin and Rhiannon West as Nancy. The production is scheduled to tour until March 2009.
The Estonian revival was produced in 2003 in Tallinn (the original ran in early 1990s in Tartu, the theatre Vanemuine). It ran in November and December that year, with well-known actors Aivar Tommingas as Fagin, Raivo E. Tamm as Bill and Evelin Samuel as Nancy.
2009 London revival
Oliver! bill board at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 2009.
A revival of the 1994 Sam Mendes production, directed by Rupert Goold, opened on 14 January 2009 (previews from 13 December 2008 ) at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, starring Rowan Atkinson as Fagin, Burn Gorman as Bill Sykes, Julian Glover as Mr. Brownlow, Jordan Li-Smith as Charlie Bates, Julian Bleach as Mr. Sowerberry/Dr Grimwig, and Louise Gold as Mrs. Sowerberry/Mrs. Bedwin. Louise had taken over the role of Mrs Bedwin from Rosemary Leach. The roles of Nancy and Oliver were cast through the BBC reality television talent show series I'd Do Anything. The three actors who won the role of Oliver were Laurence Jeffcoate, Harry Stott and Gwion Jones. Jodie Prenger won the role of Nancy, with Tamsin Carroll as the alternate Nancy and Sarah Lark as their understudy. When Rowan Atkinson left the production Omid Djalili took over as Fagin.
Oliver Twist, the protagonist of the story, he is a lonely orphan boy born in the workhouse.
Fagin, a conniving career criminal, he takes in homeless boys and teaches them to pick pockets for him.
Nancy, Bill Sikes's lover, she takes a liking to Oliver and treats him like her own child.
Mr. Brownlow, Oliver's grandfather, a man of wealth and breeding.
Bill Sikes, Nancy's brutal and abusive lover, a burglar and eventual murderer.
Mr. Bumble, the pompous beadle of the workhouse in which Oliver was born.
The Artful Dodger, the cleverest of Fagin's pickpockets, he introduces Fagin to Oliver.
Mr. & Mrs. Sowerberry, the couple who take in Oliver and use him in their funeral business.
Mrs. Corney, the matron of the workhouse where Oliver was born, later marries Mr. Bumble.
Charlotte Sowerberry, the rude but also flirtatious daughter of the Sowerberrys.
Noah Claypole, The Sowerberrys' apprentice, he bullies Oliver about his mother and enjoys a flirty relationship with Charlotte.
Bette, Nancy's friend, one of Fagin's former pickpockets.
Charley Bates, one of Fagin's pickpockets. He is Dodger's sidekick.
Dodger!, a sequel to Lionel Bart's Oliver! was composed by Andrew Fletcher with the book and lyrics written by David Lambert. It is set seven years after the events in the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens where the Artful Dodger has been sentenced to an Australian penal colony and has a romantic involvement with the character Bet.
References and notes
^ Kenny, Sean. "Designing Oliver", The Strand Archive, 18, ii, 7 September 1960, pp. 6?12. The edition also contains articles by the lighting engineer, John Wyckham (pp. 12?16), and by K. R. Ackerman (pp. 17?18).
^ Oliver! at the Internet Broadway Database The First Broadway production
^ Borick, Dana.Oliver brings message to citysungazette.com (Williamsport, PA), December 26, 2008
^ Burliuk, Greg.thewhig.com (Kingston, Ontario), January 2009
^ ). "Jones, Stott and Jeffcoate Will Be Oliver in London Revival of Lionel Bart Musical". Playbill.
^ BBC - Oliver page about the television show.
^ Shenton, Mark."Carroll and Lark Join Company of London Oliver! Revival; Casting Now Complete",playbill.com, October 30, 2008
^ BBC Norfolk review of Dodger!