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Oliver's feel-good factor

Razia Iqbal | 14:42 UK time, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

It's not the most obvious feel good story line: a workhouse boy gets sold into virtual slavery, escapes, only to find himself befriended by a thief who exploits homeless children, is threatened by a villain who commits a murder, which is witnessed by the boy.oliver226282.jpg

Perhaps it is just familiarity, but there is something rousing and comforting about the musical Oliver!, and we so want the boy to have his happy ending, that our ability to suspend disbelief is not difficult, as the bleak life of Victorian London contrasts with one fun tune after another.

John Gielgud once described the music from Oliver, as "very amateur, though catchy and appropriate".

However, in the production which is about to open on London's West End stage, no expense has been spared.

At the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with an 80ft deep stage, it as lavish a production as you are likely to see. Even if you thought the music was amateur in conviction and execution, there is nothing amateur about Cameron Mackintosh's Oliver!

It has already broken records, setting a new benchmark for being the most successful West End show to date, taking £15 million pounds in advance ticket sales. With top ticket prices at £60, that is astonishing in itself.

But audiences are likely to flock to this show for the same reason theatre producers put on extravaganzas in the 1930s. People need entertainment, and an antidote to bad times.

And this production will also have wider appeal because of the BBC television show I'd Do Anything, which cast Nancy and the three Olivers.

It also has, in its favour, Rowan Atkinson as Fagin. He is only in it for six months though, being unable to tolerate, as he told me, doing the same thing over and over again. It took Cameron Mackintosh fifteen years to persuade him to take the part.

He doesn't play if for laughs only, though there is perfect comic timing in his performance. There is also villainy aplenty, and he makes much more of Fagin's Jewish identity than other stage versions.

And while any musical version of Dickens' novel will be devoid of the writer's social rage, a new audience, through the television show, is ready made to embrace the tunes..

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