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Theatre / Oliver!

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Oliver! is a musical adaptation of Oliver Twist, with book, music, and lyrics all by Lionel Bart. It premiered on London's West End in 1960, and had its first Broadway production in 1963.

Young Oliver Twist is just one of several dozen urchins fed a starvation diet in a workhouse. When Oliver complains too much about their meager diet of gruel, he is promptly sold to an undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. He then escapes from the Sowerberrys and makes his way to London, where he meets a pickpocket the same age as he, who is named Jack Dawkins but calls himself the "Artful Dodger".

The Artful Dodger then introduces Oliver to Fagin, an older man who keeps a whole gang of urchins that he uses as pickpockets. Oliver and The Artful Dodger go out on a wallet-stealing mission, but Oliver is arrested for the wallet that the Dodger steals. This winds up getting Oliver adopted by Mr. Brownlow, the rich man who owns the wallet. However, his criminal acquaintances, namely Fagin and Fagin's even scarier and more dangerous partner, Bill Sikes the thief, decide they want Oliver back.

In 1968 the play received a highly successful film adaptation, Oliver!, directed by Carol Reed. A theatrical sequel to the play titled Dodger, set seven years later and focusing on the Artful Dodger, was staged in 2008 by David Lambert.

Davy Jones of The Monkees played The Artful Dodger in the original production.

Oliver! provides examples of:

  • Actor Swap: Probably since he’s hardly even shown, Charley Bates is played by two different boys.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The musical simplifies matters from the book enormously by making Mr. Brownlow Oliver's grandfather and leaving Monks and the Mayleys out entirely.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The title was shortened from Oliver Twist.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Fagin is still not exactly a heroic character, being self-serving and at least somewhat manipulative. However, he's much nicer than his villainous book counterpart, as he does show genuine kindness and care to the children he trains as thieves and makes a dramatic contrast to the abusive and cruel adults Oliver has encountered previously.note 
  • Adapted Out: Monks and the Maylies are omitted. Rose was down in the notes to appear originally, but got dropped from the story.
  • Affably Evil: Fagin and Dodger, who, while genuinely pleasant to the kids under their care, actively look for children to recruit using many of the same criteria as modern cults. Fagin, however, after seeing how Nancy and Bill turned out, has something of a change of heart and, after some soul-searching and the destruction of his operation, resolves to turn over a new leaf.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Nancy sings about her love of Bill Sikes, the best thief, who's a cold, bullying monster. It turns out bad for her in the end - he winds up killing her.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The musical omits any direct reference to Fagin's Jewishness, but Lionel Bart (who was Jewish himself) infuses Fagin's music with what has been described as a klezmer sound, and Ron Moody (who was also Jewish) played this up, particularly on the original cast album.
  • The Artful Dodger: Jack Dawkins. Even more so than in the book.
  • Bad Samaritan: Fagin, though downplayed from the book. While still somewhat self-serving, he is portrayed as something of a whimsical Loveable Rogue who does to some extent care for his gang (or at least loathes Sikes' treatment of them).
  • Bawdy Song: In a sort of meta-example, "Oom Pah-Pah" both refers to this kind of song and is a very mild example itself.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Alone, we see Fagin contemplating this during "Reviewing the Situation", but also noting how hard it would be to start over as a good guy.
    Fagin: And though I'd be the first one to say that I wasn't a saint
    I'm finding it hard to be truly as black as they paint...
  • Berserk Button: Do not insult Oliver's dead mother. Or call him a liar for that matter, doesn't matter whether you are a "work ass" calling jerkass or Bill Big Bad Sikes himself, you will make an ugly scene.
  • Big Word Shout:
    Oliver: Please sir, I want some more.
    Mr. Bumble: WHAT?!
    Oliver: Please sir, I want some...more?
    Mr. Bumble: MORE?!!
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "I'd Do Anything" starts out with cute lines about the things the boys would do, like "Would you climb a hill? (Anything!)/ Wear a daffodil? (Anything!)" etc. Then in the third verse:
  • Broken Bird: Nancy. Her plight is summed up in her song, "As Long as He Needs Me" which explains why she stays with Sikes despite his domestic abuse.
  • The Brute: Bill Sikes.
  • Character Title: Named after the main character, Oliver.
  • Cheerful Child: Oliver brings out the best in nearly everyone he meets, even Fagin. The exceptions to this are the completely heartless.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Both Nancy and Sikes grew up in Fagin's gang of child pickpockets, and some stage productions deliberately imply this trope when casting a younger actor as Sikes.
  • Composite Character: In the book, the doctor who looks after Oliver is a separate character from Mr. Grimwig, Mr. Brownlow's friend who expresses doubts about Oliver's trustworthiness. In the musical, they are combined into the character of Dr. Grimwig.
  • Compressed Adaptation: A lot of plot convolutions and their related characters, particularly regarding Oliver's tangled family history, get left out.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Oliver witnesses and initially gets blamed for Dodger pick-pocketing, his own great uncle, no less.
  • Creepy Mortician: The Sowerberrys, a whole family of this. They even get a song, "That's Your Funeral."
  • Criminal Found Family: The musical tones down the harsh character of the master thief Fagin, and his gang of apprentice pickpockets seem to be a found family for orphan Oliver. Both the stage and film versions include the rollicking song "Consider Yourself", and almost makes being a street urchin in Victorian London seem like fun. Oliver does want to be considered "one of" the gang.
  • Crowd Song: "Consider Yourself".
  • Dark Reprise:
    • "It's a Fine Life" is first sung by Nancy and Bet as a relatively cheerful song, but is later reprised by Nancy, Bill Sikes, Fagin, and Dodger in a more sarcastic and dark manner.
      • When you look at Bill's treatment of Nancy, the original becomes pretty dark on its own: "Though you sometimes do come by/The occasional black eye/You can always cover one/'Till he blacks the other one/But you don't dare cry!"
      • In the original version (and subsequently mounted productions of the show) the orchestration, similar in tone to the rowdy, cheerful way it was sung earlier, gives this moment in the show a severe case of Lyrical Dissonance. The Cameron Mackintosh revival, mounted in the West End in 1994 and 2008, remedied this unfortunate imbalance, thanks largely to orchestrator Bill Brohn and arranger Chris Walker.
    • "As Long As He Needs Me" is another example: the first time Nancy sings it to demonstrate how she won't give up Bill despite his abuse, the second is right before Bill decides he doesn't need her anymore - and murders her in cold blood.
  • Delicious Daydream: The song "Food, Glorious Food" is sung by the boys in the workhouse, who are imagining said glorious food while sick of the gruel they're being served.
  • Demoted to Extra: Charley Bates. His role is greatly reduced from the novel. Likely done to put more emphasis on the Artful Dodger.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Speaking Bill Sikes' name aloud is, apparently, grounds for being killed, even if it's a whisper. He claims he actually followed through and did kill someone for boasting that he could his name in vain.
  • Domestic Abuse: Bill Sikes to Nancy.
  • Double Entendre: The entirety of "Oom-Pah-Pah" is a glorious pileup of double entendres, with just enough subtlety to avoid being cut from even the most kid-friendly productions. Though it's up to the viewer to decide whether "oom-pah-pah" is meant to be alcohol, sex, or both. Considering that it's presented as a drinking song, the former is the most likely, although not by much.
    Nancy: They all suppose what they want to suppose
    When they hear "oom-pah-pah"!
  • Downer Ending: The only character who has a happy ending is Oliver himself. And that's after watching Nancy killed by Bill Sikes, who is then killed trying to escape with Oliver. Must've been pretty traumatic to be a part of...
  • The Dreaded: Sikes. The moment he arrives in the tavern after "Oom-Pah-Pah" the whole place goes dead quiet, seguing perfectly into his Villain Song.
    Sikes: Strong men tremble when they hear it
    They've got cause enough to fear it
    It's much blacker than they smear it
    Nobody mentions... my name.
  • Drunken Song: "Oom-Pah-Pah": "There's a little ditty they're singing in the city, espec'lly when they've been on the gin or the beer..."
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "Reviewing the Situation".
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Fagin seems to dislike Bill Sikes's penchant for violence and his treatment of Nancy. The thieves and pickpockets under his care also react with horror when Sikes beats Nancy in front of them. Also, when Sikes tells the gang that he murdered Nancy, Fagin is visibly horrified and refuses to help him escape. Even Bullseye, Sikes' rough and tough guard dog, refuses to follow his master after he murders Nancy.
  • Everything Has Rhythm: During "Consider Yourself", everyone does this with whatever it is they happen to be doing. Except maybe Dodger and Oliver.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: "Reviewing the Situation" is this trope in musical form. Having realized that the life of a criminal, with all its "trials and tribulations", might not be the best thing for him, and he muses over possible alternatives: getting married, living in society, getting an honest job. Each time, though, he comes to the realization halfway through that the "solution" he's describing would not be an improvement (for example, a wife would just nag him and take his money), leading him to conclude:
    I think I'd better think it out again.
  • The Fagin: Fagin.
  • Fatal Flaw: Nancy's misplaced Undying Loyalty to the monstrous Bill Sikes.
  • Food Songs Are Funny: "Food, Glorious Food". A bunch of starving workhouse boys sing of having all the food they want.
  • Hakuna Matata: "Consider Yourself".
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Who Will Buy" has Oliver recite the line "I'm so high, I swear I could fly." This is referring to an emotional high, of course - He's just really happy.
  • Haven't You Seen X Before?:
    The Artful Dodger: [to Oliver, who has just arrived in London] Whatchu starin' at? 'Aven't you never seen a toff?
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Nancy is forced by Sikes to lead Oliver into a trap so he can be brought back to Fagin. Later she risks her own life to save Oliver from Sikes.
    • Sikes's dog Bullseye. After Sikes murders Nancy, Bullseye runs back to the crowd and leads them to Sikes and Oliver.
    • Fagin considers the benefits of this in the song "Reviewing the Situation", but quickly changes his mind.
    • Fagin decides at the end that, with the breaking up and arrest of his gang, along with the loss of his precious treasures, there has never been a better time to change his ways.
  • "I Am" Song: Bill Sikes' "My Name".
  • I Am Very British: In the first half, the difference is made stronger due to a juxtaposition of 'proper' and Cockney English.
  • I Am What I Am:
    • Fagin seems to always come back to the I Am What I Am decision.
    • Nancy is fully aware of the fact that Bill is a complete bastard, but she can't help loving him, complete with song. And then, to top off the love fest, he kills her.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Fagin, while "Reviewing the Situation," considered going straight and the situations it might result in, but finally decided:
    I'm reviewing the situation.
    I'm a bad 'un and a bad 'un I shall stay!
    You'll be seeing no transformation,
    But it's wrong to be a rogue in ev'ry way.
  • I'm Going to Hell for This: Bill Sikes has this to say:
    Once bad, what's the good of turning?
    In Hell, I'll be there a-burning
    Meanwhile, think of what I'm earning
    all on account of my name.
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Though unnamed, the Rose Seller has one of the loveliest solos in the show. The part is often cast and costumed to evoke this character archetype.
    Who will buy my sweet red roses
    Two blooms for a penny?
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: "Oom Pah Pah" is a drinking song. Looks like it's named after everyone's favorite thing, too.
  • Jerkass:
  • Kick the Dog: Bill tries to kill Bullseye, but he not only runs away, but leads the chase right to him.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Bill Sikes. The show gets much darker once he shows up.
  • Large Ham: Fagin.
  • Lighter and Softer: Granted, most musicals are this by nature, but still, the original book is pretty grim.
  • Loveable Rogue:
    • Fagin, de-emphasizing his Greedy Jew characterization in the original. Particularly notable is Ron Moody's cheerfully hammy performance in the 1968 film version. (He even stands up for Oliver on two occasions.)
    • Jack Dawkins, aka the Artful Dodger, is also a "kinder gentler" version; he steals to survive but bears no malice. In fact, the only truly evil gang member is Sikes.
  • Love Martyr: Poor Nancy has this BAD for Bill Sikes. She recognises this in "As Long As He Needs Me", but even though he's a murderous thug and robber who beats her and plans to kill Oliver, she still can't bring herself to hand him over to the law.
    As long as life is long
    I'll love him, right or wrong
    And somehow I'll be strong
    As long as he needs me.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Who Will Buy?"
  • Mood Whiplash: The unbridled joy of "Oom Pah Pah" is followed immediately by the appearance of the sinister Bill Sikes and his chilling rendition of "My Name".
  • Musical World Hypotheses: The musical is mostly Alternate Universe, though the songs Nancy sings at the Three Cripples Inn ("It's a Fine Life" and "Oom Pah Pah") can fit into Diegetic.
  • Noble Demon: Fagin is a thief, who trains others to be thieves, and works with Bill Sikes, but deep down he doesn't like his life and wishes the things he does weren't necessary, and tries his best not to be too bad. This trope is exemplified in the song "Reviewing the Situation":
    Though I'd be the first one to say that I wasn't a saint
    I'm finding it hard to be really as black as they paint
    I'm reviewing the situation
    Can a fellow be a villain all his life?...
    I'm a bad 'un and a bad 'un I shall stay
    You'll be seeing no transformation
    But it's wrong to be a rogue in every way
    I don't want nobody hurt for me
    Or made to do the dirt for me
    This rotten life is not for me
    It's getting far too hot for me
    There is no in-between for me
    But who will change the scene for me?
    I think I'd better think it out again!
  • Ode to Food: "Food, Glorious Food" is sung by the boys in the workhouse about how they're sick of gruel and want to eat all these other foods instead, including hot sausage with mustard, cold jelly and custard, pease pudding, and a great big steak.
  • Old-Timey Ankle Taboo: "Oom-pah-pah":
    Pretty little Sally
    Goes walking down the alley
    Displays her pretty ankles to all of the men
    They can see her garters
    But not for free-and-gratis—
    An inch or two, and then she knows
    When to say when!
  • Orphanage of Fear: The workhouse.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: The hooker-advertising-her-wares strip tease described by Nancy:
    Pretty little Sally
    Goes walking down the alley
    Displays her pretty ankles for all of the men
    They can see her garters
    But not for free and gratis —
    An inch or two, and then she knows when to say when!
  • Pinball Protagonist: Oliver's an orphan, gets passed from orphanage, to a funeral home, then gets kicked out and gets picked up by the thieves guild, then is taken in by a rich old man. It's a musical, and the characters mostly sing around him as well.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: "I'd Do Anything" is mostly one guy saying he'd do anything for a girl, and the girl making ridiculous or strange suggestions, to all of which he agrees. Then Fagin co-opts it, and does the routine with his gang of loyal street urchins, and his suggestions are a little darker.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Well, not really related, but a verse of “You Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two” mentions that Bill Sikes was one of Fagin’s trainees as a child, while in the book, he was just a robber that Fagin knew.
    Take a tip from Bill Sikes
    He can whip what he likes
    I recall he started small
    He had to pick a pocket or two
    • This applies to Oliver and Mr. Brownlow in this adaptation as well. In the novel, Mr. Brownlow was a friend of Oliver's father, and would have been his sister-in-law had his bride-to-be, Oliver's paternal aunt, not died on their wedding day. In the musical, Oliver's mother Agnes is Brownlow's daughter, who ran off when her fiance jilted her (to spare her father the shame of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy). This makes Brownlow Oliver's grandfather, a plot point borrowed from David Lean's film version. The film version of the musical makes Oliver's mother his niece instead of his daughter.
  • Rolling Pin of Doom: "Only it's wise to be handy with a rolling pin when the landlord comes to call!"
  • A Round of Drinks for the House: Discussed (optimistically) in "Consider Yourself".
    Always a chance we'll meet somebody to foot the bill
    Then the drinks are on the house!
  • Say My Name: Oliver!
    • But especially in "My Name"
      Sikes: What is it?
  • The Scottish Trope: Invoked. Bill Sikes claims to have murdered a man who boasted he could say his name in vain.
  • Sidekick Song:
    • "You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two" serves as an Anti-Villain Song for Fagin.
    • "Consider Yourself" sung by The Artful Dodger.
    • Fagin also gets arguably the most fun song in the entire show, "Reviewing the Situation." He shares the reprise with Dodger.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Fagin avoids capture and execution in the end.
    • The Artful Dodger avoids arrest and being sent to Australia.
    • Bullseye does not fall to his death leaping up at Sikes' body as in the novel.
  • Undertaker: The Sowerberries get to sing about how wonderful their work looks at the funeral.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Subverted with the Bumbles. In their early scenes, they flirt a lot and get a whole silly love song to themselves, but by the end of the play when they reappear, having finally tied the knot, it's clear that, being awful people, they have only managed to make one another miserable.
  • Villain Song: "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" for Fagin, "My Name" for Sikes. Other characters who have villainous traits such as the Bumbles and the Sowerberries have their own in "Oliver" and "That's Your Funeral" respectively.
  • Villainous Advice Song: "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two".
  • Welcoming Song: The boys sing "Consider Yourself" to welcome Oliver into their gang.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Bet in the book is to end up in an asylum over the trauma of Nancy's death, but she disappears in the musical. A lot of productions will feature her as the one who shouts "You've murdered Nancy!" in the ending.
  • "When I'm Gone" Song: "Be Back Soon". The pickpocket boys sing to Fagin and he sings back as they prepare go out into the street to pickpocket. The song mainly references returning, but considering that stealing at the time could conceivably carry a death sentence by hanging, an ominous cloud hangs behind the cheery tune and lyrics. Some examples:
    • From Fagin:
      Fare thee well, but be back soon
      Who can tell where danger's lurking
    • and
      Give me one long, last look, bless you
    • And the boys:
      We must disappear
      We'll be back here
      Today... perhaps tomorrow
  • When You Snatch the Pebble: During the "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two", Fagin lets his urchins demonstrate pick pocketing to Oliver by letting them steal things from his coat. He's not trying that hard to stop them, though, since he's not training them.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The title character.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Throughout the play, Nancy is a punching bag for Bill Sikes and the beatings grow progressively worse. In the end, Nancy tries to leave with Oliver, but Bill follows them and confronts them by London Bridge. Oliver tries to stop Bill from trying to grab Nancy, but is unsuccessful; Bill – in an unprecedented display of barbaric savagery – brutally clubs Nancy to death (in the original stage play; she has also been strangled, stabbed and/or had her throat slit). Bill takes Oliver hostage and uses the lad as a bargaining tool to ensure his freedom, but Bill is still caught and killed.
  • Your Mom: Noah insults Oliver's mom and outright calls him a bastard.

Other specific productions add examples of:

  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In a London revival, Fagin breaks the fourth wall during a few of his monologues, especially when he is play acting with his 'treasures'. For example, he was looking through an opera glass and pretending he was at a theatre, gesturing towards the Stalls in the actual theatre (where the most expensive seats are) and mentioning that was where all the rich people were, then gesturing at the top tier and saying that was full of poor people. In the second monologue he started recounting the story of the musical and ended up saying: "What the Dickens am I going on about?"
  • Composite Character: Bet will sometimes appear in "Consider Yourself" and be the one to scream "You murdered Nancy!" towards the end.
  • Fake Food: In some productions applesauce stands in for the gruel eaten by the workhouse orphans in the opening scene. It's easy to "set up" (no cooking required), easy to clean off of prop bowls and spoons, is readily gobbled by a group of 8-14 year-old kids, and looks "truly disgusting" from the audience.
  • Gender Flip: In some productions, the Artful Dodger is played by a girl.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In some productions , the lyrics for "Reviewing the Situation" end with "There is no in between for me/But who will change the scene for me?", whereupon the set immediately starts to revolve as Fagin heads back to the fireplace to count his money.
  • Medium Awareness: In one production in London, the orchestration uses a violin soloist during "Reviewing the Situation". Since a violin is one of the items that Fagin has in his box of treasures, there were several Played for Laughs moments where Fagin, apparently hearing the violin solo, would stop and stare at the violin, and pick it up to examine it. The same part also featured a long monologue by Fagin where he seemed perfectly aware that he was on stage in a theatre.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Some productions make Nancy and Bet sisters as opposed to best friends.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Some productions leave Nancy's death ambiguous, implying there's a chance she survived.

The sequel Dodger: