The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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The enduring love for Lionel Bart’s Oliver!

Sunday, 17 March 2024, 09:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

This April, Masquerade is back with Oliver!, one of the most beloved classics in musical theatre history. Join us as we explore what makes this musical so universally appealing, more than 60 years after its debut in London’s West End.

The story of young Oliver Twist, an orphan looking for love and belonging while fighting for survival in the streets of Victorian London, has been tugging at our heartstrings since Charles Dickens first wrote it in his classic novel. However, it was Lionel Bart's legendary musical, with its unforgettable songs like Consider Yourself, Where is Love?, Who Will Buy? and Oom-Pah-Pah, that cemented its place in musical history.

Oliver! premiered in London's West End in 1960, becoming an instant hit and debuting on Broadway just three years later. It has since won several awards, been adapted into an Academy Award-winning film and enjoyed multiple revivals in as many countries. Although it may be hard to understand how a story that is set in a completely different era can still be so popular in today's fast-paced and materialistic world, one secret of this musical's enduring popularity is found in its themes.

The struggles that Oliver faces while trying to better his life and to find a sense of belonging are the same that many still face today. His is a timeless story of hope and resilience: both universal ideals that resonate with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. "Masquerade recently wrapped up our latest production of Grease - another classic that has captivated audiences across three generations," says director anthony bezzina. "Oliver! promises a similar enchantment, boasting a compelling narrative that, despite its darker moments, celebrates community and resilience, offering a message of empowerment particularly resonant for young audiences."

However, the moving story that Oliver! tells is not the only reason audiences still flock to watch the production. Its iconic score is another world-famous, instantly recognisable crowd-puller. Curiously, Lionel Bart - who wrote the musical's book, music, and lyrics - could not read or write music. Instead, he sang out the entirety of Oliver! to Eric Rogers, who transcribed it for him. The road to having his musical produced was paved with obstacles, not least because of the scepticism he faced when he first pitched the idea, but his determined vision for the musical overcame them all.

Not only has it had its share of notable performers and directors over the years, including Sam Mendes, Rowan Atkinson and Jonathan Pryce, but Oliver! has also garnered several nominations and wins for prestigious awards such as the Tony and Laurence Olivier. Bart's musical likewise paved the way for others, most notably Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, to achieve remarkable international success.

As Masquerade's production of Oliver! takes centre stage, its cast and crew are busy transforming the Mediterranean Conference Centre into Victorian London. Worthy of a place in the musical's international hall of fame, Masquerade's stellar cast includes top performers such as Dorothy Bezzina, Mikhail Basmadjian and Thomas Camilleri, who play its colourful characters Nancy, Bill Sikes and the ever-menacing Fagin. And as ever, Oliver! promises to captivate and delight audiences of all ages, from families hoping for a magical evening at the theatre together, to those eager to relive a classic in an unforgettable theatrical experience.

Indeed, in a world where entertainment and cultural trends come and go, Oliver! has stood the test of time, testament to the enduring power of storytelling and the universal language of music.

"Oliver! is one of those shows that's remembered by audience members long after the performance finishes," adds bezzina. "Its entertaining storyline is peppered with humour and touching moments. Add to that a fantastic cast breathing life into the characters and you've got an unmissable show."

 

Lionel Bart's Oliver! plays at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta, from 5-14 April, with matinee and evening performances available. Tickets are available at www.showshappening.com. Oliver! is a Masquerade Malta production by special arrangement with Cameron Mackintosh, with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, freely adapted from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. All authorised performance materials are licensed and supplied by Music Theatre International: www.MTIShows.co.uk. This production is supported by Visit Malta. For more information, visit www.masquerademalta.com.


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