Oliver! Tour Will Be Non-Equity; U.S. Launch of Mendes/Mackintosh Rewrite Is Nov. 11

News   Oliver! Tour Will Be Non-Equity; U.S. Launch of Mendes/Mackintosh Rewrite Is Nov. 11
The new non-Equity U.S. national tour of Oliver!, based on the Sam Mendes-Matthew Bourne staging that appeared London and Australia, will launch Nov. 11 at Denver's Buell Theatre.

It was thought for a time that the 40-member troupe would be Equity, but a deal apparently could not be reached with the union. "At present the tour is scheduled to go out as a non-union tour, however, we are open to exploring the idea of a workable agreements with the various unions and we are having conversations to that end," producer Ken Gentry told Playbill On-Line.

This is the U.S. debut of the slightly revised, slightly darker revival version of the smash Lionel Bart show inspired by Dickens' "Oliver Twist." Cameron Mackintosh produced the revival abroad in 1994.

The 35-week touring show is directed by Graham Gill, choreographed by Jeff Garrett and has the 1994 orchestrations by William David Brohn. Designers are Adrian Vaux (set), Anthony Ward (costumes) and Jenny Kagan (lighting). The company (on stage and off) totals 82.

The entire tour schedule has not been announced, though individual markets (such as Boston) are slowly being announced by regional presenters.

The nature of the tour has changed in the past year, since it was first announced in 2002. Producer Cameron Mackintosh told Playbill On-Line in January 2002 that a version of his 1994 London revival of Oliver! would play the United States in a national tour in 2003, and it was later announced in April 2002 that the Ordway Center in St. Paul, MN, would be the launching pad in summer 2003. That has since changed. A star to play Fagin was also sought for a time, when the show was thought to be an Equity affair. *

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 [2002] with the original London Palladium set," Mackintosh previously told Playbill On-Line. "It's [choreographer] Matthew [Bourne] and Sam Mendes' production."

The touring production is expected to be scaled down in comparison to the large staging in London. "It will be a new production," Mackintosh said.

The hugely successful producer of Cats, Miss Saigon, Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera said he hopes Broadway will eventually once again hear such classic Oliver! 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 prior to its 1963 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 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."

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.

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