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The Writing of Oliver

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

There's a musical that was a hit on London's West End before becoming a hit on Broadway, based on a very famous novel, involving children in peril and a vast array of lower-class characters, and it tells a lot of story efficiently due to its staging on a huge turntable. No, it's not Les Miserables "that came a quarter century later. It's Oliver by Lionel Bart.

It's instructive to compare two hit shows that have all those elements in common. What Bart was able to do, remarkably, was to amplify the joy in what is a rather sad story, by playing off the color and spirit of the characters from London's underbelly. In Oliver,you encounter "empty larder days, why grouse?"Les Miserables, true to its title, dramatizes the pitiable aspects of being poor.

Oliver's celebratory numbers set the tragic elements in stark relief. (In contrast, those Les Miserable events pile up, one after the other, with less cumulative effect.) The songs are often in a true-to-the-period music hall style. (One, "Oom-Pah-Pah," is a quodlibet: its verse and chorus are repeated simultaneously, in counterpoint.) "Food Glorious Food," "Where Is Love?" and "As Long As He Needs Me" are particularly strong at portraying the needs the characters are feeling. And when one music hall tune, "It's a Fine Life," suddenly turns from a humorous romp to a serious expression of the character's beliefs, the effect is thrilling.

Children on stage can be a dicey thing. It's difficult to find juvenile players who can hold their own and be as full-blooded and interesting as adult character actors. Musicals that employ them must be careful to limit the quantity of stage time and the range of emotions the kids must play. Oliver's sections with the boys are cagey: they're fairly brief, and the songs are simple enough that youngsters can usually be found who can play them to their fullest.

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Oliver! (DVD Gift Set with CD Soundtrack) from Amazon.com 1968 film version. Oscar winning adaptation of the stage show based on "Oliver Twist." Includes CD of the soundtrack.

Cast Recordings

Oliver Original CastOliver! (Deluxe Edition) (1963 Original Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Songs include: Overture/Food Glorious Food, Oliver!, I Shall Scream, Boy for Sale; Where Is Love?, Consider Yourself, You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, It's a Fine Life, I'd Do Anything, Be Back Soon, Oom-Pah-Pah, My Name, As Long as He Needs Me, Who Will Buy?, Reviewing the Situation, As Long as He Needs Me (Reprise), Reviewing the Situation (Reprise), and Finale

Oliver London CastOliver!: The 1994 London Palladium Cast Recording from Amazon.com Starring Jonathan Pryce. Songs include: Prologue, Food, Glorious Food, Oliver!, Widow Corney's Parlour, I Shall Scream!, Boy For Sale, That's Your Funeral, Where Is Love?, Oliver's Escape, Consider Yourself, You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, Rum Tum Tum, It's A Fine Life, I'd Do Anything, Be Back Soon, The Robbery, Oom Pah Pah, My Name!, As Long As He Needs Me, Where Is Love (Reprise), Who Will Buy?, It's A Fine Life (Reprise), Reviewing The Situation, Oliver! (Reprise), As Long As He Needs Me (Reprise), London Bridge, and Reviewing The Situation (Reprise)

Sheet Music

"Oliver" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Where Is Love?" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Consider Yourself" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Who Will Buy" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

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