MORE THAN 50 years after it premiered on London’s West End, Lionel Bart’s classic musical Oliver! remains as much-loved as ever. Now Galway audiences can look forward to a new staging of the show from Brian and Sean Powers’ Twins Production Company which takes to the Town Hall Theatre stage next week.
Oliver! was the first musical adaptation of a famous Charles Dickens work to become a stage hit. The plot of Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist is much simplified for the purposes of the musical, with Fagin being portrayed as more of a comic character than a villain, and sizeable portions of the latter part of the story being completely left out.
It still has many memorable characters including Oliver himself, the fearsome Bill Sykes, the Artful Dodger, and the heartless workhouse curator Mr Bumble. Bart’s musical has a slew of instantly recognisable songs such as ‘Food, Glorious Food’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘You’ve Got To Pick a Pocket or Two’, ‘Reviewing the Situation’, and ‘I’d Do Anything’.
The show was an instant smash hit when it opened in London in 1960 and ran for 2,618 performances. It transferred to New York in 1963 (where the role of Artful Dodger was played by future Monkee Davy Jones ), becoming the first British musical to be a success on Broadway. In 1968 it was made into a film, directed by Carol Reed, which won six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Since then Oliver! has continued to enjoy major revivals, on both the West End and Broadway, and its popularity shows no signs of dimming. One poignant facet of the Oliver! story was that composer Lionel Bart ended up selling his rights to the show in order to try to finance later projects of his which flopped, leaving him bankrupt and heavily indebted. He was never again to match the kind of success he had with Oliver!
The Twin Productions’ staging of Oliver! is co-directed by Seán and Brian Power and features students from the Power Performance Academy alongside some of the best performers drawn from the leading musical societies in the west of Ireland.
Speaking about the show ahead of its opening, Seán Power began by outlining the contribution of the academy students.
“The Power Performance Academy has been on the go now for eight years,” he tells me. “We run classes for young people aged between four and 17 on Saturdays throughout the autumn, winter ,and spring. We can have up to 100 plus students taking the classes in winter. Then occasionally during the summer we’ll do a full-stage musical incorporating members of the academy alongside adult performers. The young people get great experience of working with a proper stagecraft team, lighting team, sets, sound, and experienced actors so it’s a great education for them.”
Interestingly, for all their long experience of directing musicals, the Powers have only directed Oliver! once before, for the Galway Boys’ Choir nine years ago, and they have long wanted to give it a fully-staged production.
There was also an element of luck involved in their being able to do it here and now, as Seán explains.
“There’s a big Cameron Mackintosh production of Oliver! touring England at the moment which will be coming to Dublin before Christmas, so we were lucky to get the performance rights for our staging just a couple of months before that one arrives,” he says.
Power goes on to outline some of the leading talents who have come together for the show.
“We have a cast of 50 in all in the production. The role of Fagin is played by Michael Coen, who’s won a number of best actor awards from the Association of Irish Musical Societies. Kevin Griffin plays both Bill Sykes and Bumble and Katy Creaven takes the role of Nancy.
“Oliver is played by Éidhne Kennedy, who was in our production of Tale of Two Cities, and The Artful Dodger is played by Ben Monaghan. Both Éidhne, who’s nine, and Ben, who’s 10, are members of the Power Performance Academy. Our musical director is Shane Farrell and he’s put together a good orchestra for the live score.”
Oliver! which is being staged in Dickens’ bi-centenary year, sees the continuation of the Powers’ custom of staging a big summer show at the Town Hall.
“The Town Hall have always encouraged us to do a summer show down the years,” Power notes. “Some companies wouldn’t come into the venue straight after the Galway Arts Festival and Galway Film Fleadh because there’s a bit of a lull.
“With our show we’re appealing to both locals and tourists and the tickets are competitively priced, you can get a group booking of four tickets for €50 and the show runs at 2.30pm and 6.30pm which are good times for families to come and see it. The running time is two hours. It’s going to be a lovely show we feel.”
Powers also mentions that enrolment for the September term at the Power Performance Academy is now open and details can be obtained from [email protected]. The academy has teachers who work in the areas of dance, drama, singing, etc, with guest teachers coming from time to time to pass on new performing skills.
Oliver! runs at the Town Hall from Wednesday August 8 to Sunday August 12, with two shows daily at the times mentioned above and tickets are €16/14. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie