The Road to Oliver at The Goodspeed Opera House

Please, Sir! I Want Some More
-Oliver Twist

July 26th, 2018
Last evening, in a driving rain, we once again made the two-hour drive to the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.
This time, the trip was for Lionel Bart's Oliver!  It's always a trip we dread...Let me explain. There seems to always be traffic issues and construction. However, once we are there, we are transported to the most wonderful experiences. Full disclosure: The Goodspeed Opera House happens to be one of my favorite theatres. I have NEVER seen anything there that I did not love. We always give ourselves plenty of time for a nice leisurely dinner at the Gelston House which is right next door to the theatre. This beloved classic will run through September 8.
This is the first time this classic musical is being presented by Goodspeed. Bounced from workhouse to forced labor, Oliver Twist escapes to the streets where he meets Fagin, the Artful Dodger and a band of child pickpockets. Will he find love,  home, and happiness before it’s too late? Consider yourself part of the family with the colorful international smash that gave the world “Where Is Love?,” “Food! Glorious Food!” and “As Long As He Needs Me.” Oliver! is made possible in part by Liberty Bank, the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Masonicare at Chester Village and The Shops at Mohegan Sun.
Oliver Twist is played by adorable Elijah Rayman.
The role of Fagin will be played by Donald Corren who returns to Goodspeed having previously
appeared in the musical Nöel.
OffBroadway, Donald has performed in The Fantasticks (Jerry Orbach Theatre), Old Jews Telling Jokes (Westside Theatre) and The Soap Myth (Roundabout Black Box). Regionally Corren has performed in
numerous productions including The Fabulous Lipitones (George Street Playhouse), My Fair Lady (The Guthrie Theatre) as well as productions at Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Arena Stage, Old Globe and many more. Opera House was originally built by a local merchant and banker, William Goodspeed. Construction began in 1876 and finished in 1877. Despite the name, it was not, in fact, an opera house, but rather a venue for presenting plays. Its first play, Charles II, opened on October 24, 1877.
After William Goodspeed's death, the opera house fell into disrepair, facing a series of less glamorous uses—from a militia base during World War I to a general store and a Department of Transportation storage facility.

The building is unique for a theater. The theater itself is actually located on the top two floors of the building making for interesting and sometimes difficult scenery and show load-ins.

The scenery is loaded in from the dock area up a vacant elevator shaft that is now outfitted with a winch system to haul the scenery up to the stage level. Much care has to be taken in order to get the scenery up the shaft without scratching or ruining the scenery.
One story told around Goodspeed is that while loading in the scenery for Annie's original pre-Broadway run, a strong gust of wind took a large piece of scenery out of the hands of the loaders and blew it into the Connecticut River. (Source: Wikipedia)

As mentioned earlier, this trip was to see Lionel Bart's Oliver!
Once again, we were not disappointed.
Oliver Twist; or, the Parish Boy's Progress is author Charles Dickens' second novel and was first published as a serial 1837–39. The story centers on orphan Oliver Twist, born in a workhouse and sold into an apprenticeship with an undertaker.
After escaping, Twist travels to
1948's Oliver Twist
London, where he meets "The Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal, Fagin.
Most people know the story and how it unfolds.
It was written one hundred years before my mom was born but would later have a place in my life on various occasions.

Charles Dickens' much-loved tale of a boy growing up in a brutal workhouse for the poor who later ends up living with a gang of pickpockets has been filmed many times. Early
Victorian London comes vividly to life as a place at once terrifying and fascinating, home to all manner of residents - from the evil Bill Sikes to the villainous Fagin and the courageous and good-hearted Nancy.
The 1948 film adaptation is actually the catalyst for Lionel Bart's musical than the actual book. Bart's musical hit the London stages in 1960.
It premiered in the West End in 1960, enjoying a long run, and successful long runs on Broadway, tours, and revivals, after being brought to the US by producer David Merrick in 1963. In 1963 Lionel Bart received the Tony Award for Best Original Score.
London revivals played from 1977–80, 1994–98, 2008–11 and on tour in the UK from 2011-13.
Additionally, its 1968 film adaptation, directed by Carol Reed, was highly successful, winning six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
In 1978, I had my first encounter with Oliver! I was cast as part of the ensemble with The Theatre of the Republic in my hometown of Conway, South Carolina. This would be my fifth and final production with this theatre before coming to New York to pursue my dreams.
This was truly a community theatre which means lots of work for three performances. On the afternoon of the second performance, I got a call from the director telling me that the guy who was playing Noah Claypole was in the hospital and asked if I could go in his place. Although I really did not know the part, I auditioned for this role and didn't get it, I said that if she could come and get me and drill me with the lines I would go on that night. I was also told that if need be, I could take the script on stage with me. Luckily, it did not come to that. I went on and all was great!
The next encounter I had with Oliver! was when I handled the press for the National Asian Artist's Project all Asian production.
NAAP is a community of artists, educators, administrators, community leaders, and professionals. It is a not-for-profit organization that recognizes the need to build bridges between the work of artists of Asian descent, and the many communities that the work can serve, from underserved primary school students to seasoned arts patrons.
My goal with today's blog is to celebrate the various productions over the years. Thank you, Goodspeed, for giving this classic a new exciting life!

Mark Lester in the film, Oliver!
David Merrick brought Oliver! to the Broadway stage, where it premiered at the Imperial Theatre on January 6, 1963. It closed on November 14, 1964, after 774 performances.
The cast featured child actor Bruce Prochnik in the title role alongside Georgia Brown and Barry Humphries, reprising their West End role as Nancy and Mr. Sowerberry, respectively, and Clive Revill as Fagin, replacing Ron Moody. The national tour featured Michael Goodman as The Artful Dodger, but on Broadway the role was played by future Monkee Davy Jones, another veteran of the London production. The Broadway production was a critical success and received ten Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
It won the awards for Best Scenic Design, Best Original Score and Best Music Direction. The Broadway production was revived shortly after the original production closed. The revival opened in 1965 and was directed by Peter Coe. It ran at the Martin Beck Theatre for 64 performances, featuring Victor Stiles as Oliver, Robin Ramsay as Fagin, Maura K. Wedge as Nancy, Joey Baio as The Artful Dodger, Dominic Chianese as Mr. Sowerberry, Alan Crofoot as Mr. Bumble, Danny Sewell as Bill Sikes, Bram Nossen as Mr. Brownlow, and Dodi Protero as Mrs. Bedwin.

Clive Revill as Fagin
Georgia Brown, Davy Jones, and Clive Revill appeared performing two musical numbers from Oliver! ("I'd Do Anything" and the Act II reprise of "As Long as He Needs Me") on The Ed Sullivan Show on the evening of February 9, 1964, the same evening that the Beatles made their first U.S. television appearance on that show.

Cameron Mackintosh revived Oliver! in London for the first time in 1977. It played at the Albery Theatre (the renamed New Theatre; now the Noël Coward Theatre), starring Roy Hudd as Fagin, which ran for over two years. This production was totally faithful to the 1960 original version, using Sean Kenny's set. Indeed, the original production's sepia background painted on the rear stage wall was still extant.

Bill Sikes
The 1983 London revival of Oliver! transferred to Broadway in 1984. It opened at The Mark Hellinger Theatre and ran from April 29, 1984, through May 13, 1984, for 17 performances and 13 previews. Ron Moody reprised the role of Fagin and Patti LuPone played Nancy. David Garlick reprised his West End performance as The Artful Dodger, the first British youngster to appear on Broadway since Davy Jones, creating the Equity Exchange Program in the process. The original creative staff was used for this production, including director Peter Coe. For this production, the song "I Shall Scream" was eliminated.

LuPone, in her memoirs, said that the production should have run longer, noting that this production utilized the original sets, costumes, blocking (staging), and direction, and commented:
Ron Moody as Fagin

"Hmm...maybe 'that' was the problem". Moody was nominated for a Tony Award despite the short run. The show only received one negative review; it was from Frank Rich of The New York Times who called the production "likely to hold the attention of only the youngest and most obedient children" and "just dull." It prompted one of the main backers to pull out. The positive reviews were quoted in the ad for the show, including a Clive Barnes quote: "Oliver! is glorious food for Broadway"

And Now The Glorious Players of Goodspeed's Oliver!
Elijah Rayman (Oliver Twist) and Brandon Andrus (Bill Sikes) with Gavin Swartz (The Artful Dodger) and EJ Zimmerman (Nancy) in Goodspeed Musicals’ Oliver!, now playing at The Goodspeed through September 13.

Photo Credit © Photo By: Diane Sobolewski

Now, go and do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return! Treat Them to Two Tix to Oliver!

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Thank you all for A Great Season!

Russ Woolley Proudly Presents
Richard Skipper Celebrates
Enjoy your Summer!

We Return September 9th for Our third Season!

1 PM Brunch Show Laurie Beechman Theater 
We will be celebrating with Bob Diamond, Meg Flather, Doreen Montalvo, Zachary Stains, and Lisa Viggiano. All under the Musical Direction of Tracy Stark.
Tickets Go on Sale August 9th! Let's Celebrate! 

With music, reminisces and an afternoon of fun and show business! 90 minutes of merriment and excitement . . .As we Celebrate the Present, we Honor the Past! 
When and Where:
Sunday, September 9th - 1 PM, Doors open 12:15

THE LAURIE BEECHMAN THEATRE, 407 West 42nd Street (lower level of the WEST BANK CAFE) Producer: Russ Woolley $30 ticket plus $20 food/beverage minimum - exquisite and reasonably priced food and drink. 

Richard Skipper has assembled a great cast to Celebrate and honor . . . RICHARD SKIPPER has become synonymous with "feel good entertainment of the highest quality". For decades Richard has entertained thousands and celebrated the careers of many of Theatre Row’s finest and most honored stars… The afternoon will prove to be an event where all will arrive and leave with smiles! This will be similar to the old-fashioned TV specials and series where we get to chat with and honor this Entertainment Icon. 

Tickets Go On Sale August 9th!
A Few Audience Testimonials about Richard Skipper Celebrates
No one can deliver a show like Richard Skipper. 
Richard Skipper Celebrates Cabaret and Cole June 9th, 2018
His passion and enthusiasm along with his singing and a brilliant roster of performers ......knocked it out of the park!
Thanks for being you, Richard Skipper!
Judy Stewart, American Popular Song Society
PS... Richard is The American Popular Song's good luck charm and I am looking forward to what he produces for us next June as well.

What a fabulous show!! Richard Skipper leads a pack of draw dropping talent that had the packed room constantly on its feet applauding!! Richard was his charming self interviewing the fiercely talented cast, then bringing on stage, out of the audience a young hopeful actress!! Incredible! Best show in town.
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Wow! After interviewing Richard Skipper on our
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Season Three Begins September 9th!
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  1. This is all interesting, but I have one correction (not meant in a snide or know it all way, I want to add): when the songs from "Oliver!" were performed on the historic Sullivan show featuring The Beatles, Fagin was played by Australian actor Robin Ramsey and not Clive Revill, who had left the show by February of 1964.


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