Review: Oliver! The Bristol Hippodrome 9/10
BEFORE he came up with this magical adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic tale, Lionel Bart was best known for writing comic songs for the Billy Cotton Band Show, and light- hearted melodies like Little White Bull and Living Doll for pop singers Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard.
After his tuneful adaptation of Oliver! opened in London in 1960 and then became the first British musical to succeed on Broadway for many years (winning the 1969 Academy Award for best picture) his music found a world-wide audience.
Since then the show has never lost its appeal, with four major West End revivals all, like this one, produced by Cameron Mackintosh.
The lavish production now occupying the Bristol Hippodrome has come a long way from the intimacy of the original presentation.
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Visually stunning with set designers Tottie Driver and Adrian Vaux using every inch of the Hippodrome stage, this production matches the film version for spectacular effects, and stunning choreography.
Martin Clunes was in the Bristol audience to see his former Men Behaving Badly co-star Neil Morrissey provide a much darker interpretation of Fagin than is often presented. This did not mean that there was any shortage of humour in Morrissey's portrayal, any more than there was in the comic bickering between Jack Edwards' self important Mr Bumble and Claire Machin's grasping Widow Corney.
However, the show was really led by two precocious young talents Sebastian Croft, playing the title role, and Daniel Huttlestone a wonderfully street wise Artful Dodger.
Consider Yourself number all but brought the enthusiastic audience to their feet in appreciation.
For once, however, this pair and their scene-stealing young companions did not have things all their own way, especially when Samantha Barks' Nancy was on stage.
Fresh from her eye-catching performance as Eponine in the film version of Les Miserables, she wrung every last drop of emotion out of As Long As He Needs Me, and her feisty leadership of the excellent chorus in Oom-Pah-Pah helped to provide another show stopper.
She also created a realistic Nancy who brought out the full flavour of the drama in Dickens' tale.
When Iain Fletcher's brutal Bill Sikes attacked her you wanted to rush to her aid. Amongst a group of fine supporting performances none were better than David Langham's lugubrious undertaker, Mr Sowerberry and CJ Johnson, as his acid tongued wife.
The first brash opening notes from the orchestra gave you due warning that this production was never going to hold back for a second, and it lived up to that promise as one dazzling scene and musical number followed hard on the heels of the one before.
When you consider how much joy and entertainment this show has brought to millions of people in the last 50 years, it is sad to remember that Lionel Bart, the man whose genius created it, was forced, just before he was declared bankrupt in 1972, to sell the rights to the shows future royalties for a mere £350.