Fri, 11 Apr 2003

Amazing children in Dickens' magical `Oliver!'

Kenny Santana, Contributor, Singapore

"Please sir, I want some more!" Those famous words from the Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist can now be heard daily in Singapore at the Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay, with a month-long staging of the musical Oliver!.

A grand performance with a magnificent stage set, this Australian production from Cameron Mackintosh has been drawing a lot of attention from both adults and children.

At last week's performances, audiences packed the 2,000-seat theater where the musical is being staged every night except for Mondays. Among the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen were numerous children, who seemed to be enjoying the show.

It is not difficult to see why kids would love this simple but beautiful story and its wonderful musical numbers.

This is the first time Oliver! has been staged in an Asian country. The production involves over 80 cast and orchestra members, including 30 children between the ages of seven and 15.

Among the children in the cast are 15 Singaporeans who were selected during auditions that featured 1,000 children.

Reinvented by Sam Mendes (of American Beauty fame) in 1994, the musical version of the Dickens' classic more or less stays true to the book, telling the story of a young boy named Oliver who runs away from an orphanage.

Taken in by Fagin to join his gang of child pickpockets, Oliver learns many life lessons from the people he meets on the street, such as Bill Sikes, the violent thief, Sikes' kind- hearted girlfriend, Nancy, and Artful Dodger, Oliver's mate.

Keegan Joyce, the 14-year-old actor who plays the title character, is memorable in the production. John Waters, who plays Fagin, steals scenes with his outstanding performance, as does Jared Daperis as Artful Dodger.

But if a standing ovation is to be given, it should go to Tamsin Caroll for her role as Nancy. The Australian actress, who played alongside Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet in the 1999 movie Holy Smoke, gives an amazing performance as she sings As Long As He Needs Me and I'd Do Anything.

Grand performances by the actors and an even grander set make the entire production a delight. The set is so amazingly real and detailed that it will give you goose bumps when you see "snow" falling from the sky, or the eye-popping London set complete with domes and bridges.

There is one astonishing scene where the stage background moves to give the impression that the police are really chasing Oliver, while in fact they are just running in place.

The man behind the spectacular late 19th century London set is Anthony Ward, the set designer who has worked on outstanding productions of Oklahoma and My Fair Lady.

Given the remarkable design, it is no surprise that this is the most expensive production ever staged in Singapore, with production costs of over S$12 million (US$6.89 million).

Nevertheless, it is money well spent. This is a stunning musical with beautiful songs, strong performances and, again, a grand stage set.

Oliver! plays at The Esplanade, Singapore, every night except for Mondays until April 20. For more information please check