London Bart, the first major British songwriter of the postwar era to gain international ground in musical theatre -- a territory Americans had developed until then -- died of cancer April 4, seven months before a major North American revival of his Oliver! was to debut in Toronto.
Mr. Bart, 68, was a rare British triple-threat -- composer-lyricist librettist -- in a time when Americans Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein and Sondheim and Lerner and Loewe ruled the musical theatre.
The 1960 Charles Dickens-based London musical, Mr. Bart's best-known work and biggest hit, enjoyed a recent, extravagantly-produced revival by Cameron Mackintosh in London, starring Jonathan Pryce as Fagin.
The North American tour of that Sam Mendes-directed production begins performances in Toronto in November before moving to Chicago, Boston and then to Broadway in April 2000.
Oliver!, inspired by "Oliver Twist," opened in London in 1960 and New York in 1963. An album of the show's plucky, catchy songs was released prior to the New York engagement, and a tour of the West Coast preceded the Broadway run, so the "Consider Yourself," "As Long as He Needs Me" and "Where is Love?" were already dawning in the public consciousness. The 1968 film version starring Ron Moody as Fagin won six Academy Awards including Best Picture. The stage musical not only influenced a new generation of musical writers, like Andrew Lloyd Webber, but prefigured a decade of British-influenced film musicals ("Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "Scrooge," etc.) and presaged the surge of British-written or produced mega-musicals that began with Jesus Christ Superstar and continued through Evita, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and more.
In a statement, Lloyd Webber said, "Lionel was the father of the modern British musical. Lionel's genius has, in my view, never been fully recognized by the British establishment."
Mr. Bart won the Tony Award for his Oliver! score. David Jones, later known as Davey Jones of the pop group, the Monkees, played the Artful Dodger on Broadway, singing "Consider Yourself."
The writer, however, would not have as great a success with another project. He wrote Blitz, about World War II-era London, in 1962, and Maggie May, Twang! and La Strada, based on the Fellini film. Mr. Bart also wrote the theme of the film, "From Russia With Love," and a number of pop songs, including "Living Doll." He reportedly had no legitimate musical training
Following his international fame, Mr. Bart fell on hard times, according to reports, and struggled with addiction problems. He had financed his later shows by selling rights to tunes from Oliver! and filed for bankruptcy in the 1970s.
Oliver!, derided by some critics as too sweet and a glossing-over of the Dickens source material, nevertheless became one of the great hummable scores of the century. The score includes "Food, Glorious, Food," "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two," "Oom Pah Pah," " I'd Do Anything," "My Name," "That's Your Funeral," "Who Will Buy?," "Reviewing the Situation," "Boy For Sale" and "Oliver!"
Oliver! played 2,618 performances in London and 744 performances on Broadway, and is a favorite in stock and amateur houses.
Mr. Bart is survived by two sisters.
-- By Kenneth Jones