One of the nation’s favourite musicals is coming to the North East later this year. Vicki Newman was made one of the family when she went backstage at Oliver! and met up with the stars.
RARELY before has a show offered more than the new tour of hit musical Oliver!
The show, produced by West End impresario Sir Cameron Mackintosh, is working its way across the country to Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.
Adapted from Charles Dicken’s classic novel Oliver Twist, it is the story of a young orphan boy who is sold to the owner of a funeral parlour after he dares to ask for more gruel at the workhouse, where he lives a miserable life.
But the youngster escapes and falls in with a bunch of pickpockets, led by a crook named Fagin, who try to teach him how to get by in 19th century London.
The new production of Lionel Bart’s musical stars Brian Conley as Fagin and promises to be the biggest and best touring version of Oliver! so far.
Company manager Neil White said: “When West End shows go on tour they can often only take part of the set and everything with them, and you get a very condensed version of it.
“But this is truly a West End show on tour. It’s a massive effort to get it around the country.”
The company uses 11, huge 45ft trailers to transport the set and costumes around the country and the show has an adult cast of 31 as well as 38 children who work on a rota in teams of 12.
Two dozen local children are also chosen at each venue to perform in the show.
Also on tour is a technical team of 19, a 15-piece orchestra and, of course, Bullseye the dog and his handler.
Neil added: “That’s how you know you’re doing a Cameron Mackintosh show. It’s just massive. There’s dance numbers with more than 50 people on stage and it’s really going back to the kind of thing you would have seen 40 years ago.
“Cameron is actually working on the film version of Les Miserables at the moment with stars like Hugh Jackman and Russell Crow, but he’s still on the phone constantly asking us how things are going and he’s been to see the show loads of times.
“In Newcastle, the show starts on a Wednesday, but we’ll be arriving there four days earlier to set everything up. The stage is actually designed around Newcastle because it’s slightly smaller there.
“We didn’t want to design and make everything to fit a bigger stage and then have to leave bits out when we were on Tyneside.”
The show, famous for its musical numbers such as Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself and You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, features a stunning set and amazing costumes.
Neil said: “The thing with the costumes is that they were so expensive to buy new. Then we had to send them away somewhere to get them all battered up and looking old and torn.”
Leading the cast is entertainer Brian Conley, who said being in the show is something he’s waited 38 years for.
He said: “I was in a stage school when I was 12 years old and one of the teachers said that there was auditions coming up for Oliver!
“I was normally chosen to audition for shows because I had a strong voice, but my teacher pointed at loads of other kids and said they were going and I wasn’t.
“She said I was too fat and that they couldn’t have fat kids singing about Food, Glorious Food. So it’s taken me 38 years, but finally I’m in the show.”
He added: “It’s a great show. It’s got everything and it’s a show for everyone.
“Playing Fagin I get some great songs and some comedy as well and I really love it. I’m really looking forward to going to Newcastle with the show because it’s a small theatre and the show will just engulf it. The atmosphere will be fantastic.”
Joseph Bennett, 11, from Essex, is one of four boys playing the title role of Oliver,
He said: “I was in the show in the West End and auditioned for the tour. It’s really fun and it’s different every night.”
Oliver! is at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle from September 12 to November 3.
Tickets start at £15.50. To book, go to www.theatreroyal.co.uk or call 08448 112 121.