One of the originators of the great musical tradition, Oliver! still remains a firm favourite with theatre-goers of all ages. The original score for the musical was written by Lionel Bart in 1960 and brought to the masses in the lavish film of 1968.
There s no need to go into too much detail of this all to familiar plot. Orphan Oliver escapes the horrors of a Victorian orphanage and the fearsome Mr Bumble and Widow Corney, befriending Dodger, Fagin and the loveable pickpocket gang before eventually being reunited with a family he thought he had lost.
This hugely successful West End production of Oliver! has a strong, well-rehearsed cast. Comedian and drag queen Barry Humphries returns to the part of Fagin after nearly thirty years, when he played opposite a young Marti Webb as Nancy and a very fresh-faced Phil Collins as Dodger. Unfortunately, his comeback performance was not convincing. Indeed, he was barely recognisable to this reviewer despite the many veiled references to Dame Edna which showed the part had been specifically tailored to Humphries.
Sonia Swaby s Nancy stole the show with her powerful and soulful voice, singing a beautiful rendition of “As long as he needs me”, which made co-hort Bet (Danielle McCormack) seem weak in comparison. Favourites such as “Oom-pah-pah”, “Food Glorious food” and “Consider yourself” still induce warm feelings of nostalgia in adults as well as entrancing young new-comers to the musical world of Oliver! The young actors playing Oliver (Justin Girdler) and Dodger (Kent Riley) sang well. Understudy Simon Hayden played the role of evil Bill Sykes so well that younger members of the audience insisted on booing him even after the musical had finished and actors were lined up for the final curtain!
As you d expect from a West End production, the set was lavish and well designed. The clever set changes ensured the easy and slick transformation of scenery. The change from the orphanage to Oliver s arrival in London was particularly well done.
If you re only experience of Oliver! is as a repeat film showing over Christmas, I would recommend seeing the musical. This production will not disappoint. Apart from the enjoyment of seeing the characters interacting with the audience live, you ll find yourself toe-tapping and humming to the great tunes in no time.
Anna Patmore, October 1997