This week, you’ll be saying, “please sir, can we have some more?” following the opening of OSMaD’s Oliver! Premiering on the West End in 1960, and with successful runs on Broadway and a rumoured musical movie remake, the show by Lionel Bart is still popular after 55 years. Theatre People spoke to the director, Barbara Hughes, and cast members Angelo DeCata and Stephanie Powell, ahead of OSMaD’s production opening this week.
Hughes, the director, was first introduced to Oliver! like many of us, through the 1968 film.
“I first did the show some forty years ago. It was a joyous experience for me and I always hoped that I’d have the opportunity to share that joy with my own cast. Like everyone else, I was utterly charmed by Mark Lester’s cherubic Oliver, Ron Moody’s wicked but loveable Fagin and all those cheeky urchins,” she reflects.
Hughes is a big fan of the show, and it never ceases to amaze her that a show starts with words and notes on a page, with a vision for a show and a great deal of hope.
“It is easy to see why Oliver! is still popular after 55 years. Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist provided an array of memorable themes and well-drawn, larger than life, characters. Although they are a fiction, the innocent Oliver, the villainous Fagin and the tragic Nancy all display traits and foibles that are as relevant today as they were in the 1830s.”
DeCata, in the role of Fagin, is playing one of his quintessential theatre roles, a character full of sinister and comedic elements.
“I can’t wait to transform into a person who is so far removed from myself. I am primarily an actor …… and I try to sing and dance.” he says.
“It has been a long time since I did a musical which required me to do all three. It has been challenging but so much fun. I have also enjoyed the process of discovering my take on what makes Fagin tick.”
The rehearsal period has been a great process for DeCata, now feeling that he is part of something really special.
“From the first read through there was a great sense of excitement about this production. This has not wavered at all as we approach opening night, in fact it has just intensified. OSMaD is a truly wonderful company with so many caring, talented and dedicated people who give up their time to make sure that everyone has a positive and rewarding experience.”
DeCata has also enjoyed working with a huge cast, with 48 adults and child actors gracing the stage.
“I can’t wait for audiences to see the kids in action. I am so lucky that most of my stuff is with the kids, and we have so much fun in the ‘Fagin’s Den’ sequence. They bring an energy and honesty in performance that you can’t help but connect with. It certainly keeps the adults on their toes.”
For Powell, playing Nancy, her journey with Oliver! began when she fell in love with Dickens’ sharply witty and satirical writing as a teenager, with the story of Oliver Twist capturing her imagination.
“Nancy is one of those roles of relish for female character performers. She’s feisty and lusty – always good fun to play – yet allows her vulnerability to show itself through the darker moments of her interactions with Bill and Fagin in particular,” she says about her character.
“Even though she is clearly no angel, she is a strong ‘mother’ presence in the show, with a beautiful lyricism and flow in the dialogue and music written for her. It’s sad, but Dickens didn’t shy away from demonstrating the hardness and extreme violence that were reality for women like her in his day.”
Powell has a strong relationship with Nancy’s signature song ‘As Long As He Needs Me’, and many people tell her it is one of their all-time favourites.
“My Aunt even says she used to sing it as her show-stopper when she was playing the music hall circuit as a young musician. I’m looking forward (a little nervously!) to sharing my interpretation of this classic number with everyone who comes to see our show,” she says.
There’s a reason the story of Oliver Twist has stood the test of time, as a show and as a classic novel.
“I think that the reason […] why Oliver! is so popular is that, despite its dark elements, it is a show that has tremendous heart and is ultimately uplifting,” says DeCata.
OSMaD’s Oliver! opens officially on Thursday the 15th of October, with tickets to be booked at this link.
Photography credit to Alastair Muir.