Take 30 enterprising drama students, add a director or two to the mix, combine the three principles of musical theatre – singing, dancing and acting – and the final product is an enthralling two-hour performance that vividly brings Charles Dickens' timeless characters Oliver Twist to life.
Dubai-based Step-By-Step dance and theatre academy presents Lionel Bart's award-winning masterpiece Oliver! an amateur production that promises to be the perfect family evening out.
Starring 30 children aged between seven and 15 years, the musical is full of Bart's irresistible songs including: Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, I'd Do Anything and many more.
Based on the Charles Dickens novel, the musical mixes melodrama, grim realism and merciless satire in the story of an innocent orphan in the 1830s who is shunted from an orphanage to be an undertakers apprentice. He runs away to London in search of a better life only to land in Fagin's den of thieves.
In the midst of corruption and degradation, the pure-hearted Oliver refrains from evil when those around him succumb, and in proper fairy-tale fashion, he eventually receives his reward – he is rescued and leaves London for a peaceful life in the country, surrounded by kind friends.
True to the original character's name, there is a twist to this play. In this stage version, Oliver is played by young Isobel Clarke, 10, who was chosen for her stellar showing at the auditions.
A pupil at Wellington International School in the emirate, Isobel has been performing before a live audience since she was eight. "I am nervous but also excited at performing in Dubai," she tells Emirates Business. "Being Oliver is crazy – but it's so much fun. I do get thrown about a lot but, I wouldn't miss it for anything."
And the children had to work hard to earn a place in the musical. "The auditions were not easy. Each and every cast member had to sing a musical theatre number, dance their own routine and read a monologue before they were short-listed," says Kim Webb, Director, Step-By-Step. "Then we fitted the musical to the kids we had. They all have spectacular voices and needed a musical with many numbers and solos. We decided on the full London Palladium version as it's a hard script with many songs."
Fraser Findlay, the musical's director (he also plays Fagin), adds that rehearsals have been taking place since the beginning of the year.
"The cast has been working since January to put this play together; it is all about team work. They are young and talented, and this experience has been a learning lesson to all of us at different levels," he says.
He says Fagin is a challenging role. "He is a dark character yet I also see so much good in him. He runs his den but he also tries to protect these poor orphans off the street by giving them a roof over their heads, a livelihood and meals on the table. It's all about seeing good in everyday life. This is what I've learnt and what I hope my students learn through me." But it's more than your average kiddie theatre. "You can expect a professional show done by amateur students. Their professionalism is bar none and we are very proud of them," says Webb.
Twist & shout
Dickens' Oliver Twist, the first novel in English to focus on a child protagonist, has been adapted to other media many times.
A 1909 silent film was the book's earliest onscreen adaptation. But a more popular version was made in 1922, starring Jackie Coogan as Oliver and Lon Chaney Sr as Fagin.
In 1960, Lionel Bart's musical Oliver! opened in London, and ran six years, the longest-running show at the time. In 1988, Disney put out an animated version, while the 2003 movie Twist, elevated the plot to include drugs, and the 2007 film August Rush was partly inspired by the story.