It's a Fine Life! - a new musical based on the life of Lionel Bart and featuring songs by the late composer and lyricist - receives its world premiere tonight (29 August 2006, following previews from 25 August) at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, Essex, where its limited season continues until 16 September 2006.

Bart, who was described as “the father of the modern British musical” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is most famous for Oliver!, the musical based on Charles Dickens’ novel about an orphan boy who goes from a poor workhouse to the streets of London to finally finding a home. Bart’s other musicals include Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Maggie May, Twang and Blitz. He also wrote hit songs for Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard.

Born Lionel Beglieter in 1932, the son of a Jewish tailor, Bart’s many awards include the 1963 Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist (the first British writer to win the accolade), the Variety Club Silver Heart for Show Business Personality of the Year in 1960, and nine Ivor Novello Awards between 1957 and 1960. He won his tenth Ivor Novello Award in 1986 for Lifetime Achievement. He died of cancer at the age of 68 in April 1999.

It's a Fine Life! has a book by Chris Bond, who wrote the original stage play Sweeney Todd, which inspired Sondheim's musical. It’s directed by Bob Carlton, artistic director of the Queen’s Theatre, and is designed by Mark Walters, with musical direction by David Barber. The cast includes Richard Brightiff, Diana Croft, Matt Devitt, James Earl Adair, Karen Fisher-Pollard, Allison Harding, Simon Jessop, Maria Lawson, Philip Reed and Steve Simmonds.

- by Caroline Ansdell