A version of Cameron Mackintosh's 1994 London revival of Oliver! will play the United States in a national tour in 2003, the producer told Playbill On-Line.
The 1960 musical of Dickens' "Oliver Twist," by lyricist-composer-librettist Lionel Bart, got a splashy large-cast staging by Mackintosh (Les Misérables, Miss Saigon) in 1994 at London's Palladium. Sam Mendes directed and Anthony Ward (Oklahoma!) designed the sprawling sets. Jonathan Pryce starred as Fagin in a production many thought would eventually land on Broadway, where Bart won the Tony Award for his plucky score in 1963.
"I'm doing it in Australia, which opens in May with the original London Palladium set," Mackintosh said. "It's [choreographer] Matthew [Bourne] and Sam Mendes' production."
Mackintosh said, "Oliver! is going to come to America next year," adding that it's expected to start with a sitdown at a Midwestern theatre in June 2003 prior to a national tour. The production is expected to be scaled down in comparison to the large staging in London. "It will be a new production," Mackintosh said.
It is hoped Broadway will eventually once again hear such classic songs as "Consider Yourself," "Where Is Love?," "Food, Glorious, Food" and "As Long as He Needs Me." American producer David Merrick had great success touring the American premiere production of Oliver! and creating a cast album in the early 1960s prior to its Broadway berth. Why didn't Mackintosh's 1994 production make it to Broadway?
"The problem was, quite frankly, the sheer cost of it on Broadway," Mackintosh said. "Because of the union rules on children — and it's a show that's powered by children — and the physical production is so enormous, we just couldn't afford to do it."
The London version was darker and grittier than some past productions and crawled with 20 children who served as orphans and pickpockets.
The large scale of the London staging was "because it was designed for a big house like the Palladium," Mackintosh said. "We had over 20 [kids]. We can do it with 18, but that's still a hell of a lot. And you know how expensive children are."
The show has been a favorite of Mackintosh's for years, even before he became a high-powered producer of Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and other international successes (to say nothing of the seven theatres he owns in London). "I think it's a great show," he said. "Once again, a masterful storyteller in Charles Dickens. The one thing that does connect all my musicals is that there's usually a great writer involved. Well, several modern ones, but they come from original source material that are nearly all classics."
The 1968 film version of the international hit won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The original 1960 production of Oliver! in London ran 2,618 performances.
For the revised revival in 1994 director Mendes and Bart went back to the original novel for additional dialogue and Bart added new music and lyrics. William David Brohn provided new orchestrations.
— By Kenneth Jones