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Musicals: Oliver

Colleagues: We're halfway through our annual summer musical run, and
I'd like to continue my informal reports on each of them from the
Music Director's (or in this case, Assistant Music Director's) point
of view. I'm cross posting this to ChoralTalk, OrchestraList, and
Community MusicList, since those lists are most likely to include
folks who may be involved in community musical theater. Apologies
for the duplication. Feel free to delete.

This isn't written for the musical theater novice, but for those with
experience who haven't happened to prepare and conduct "Oliver!"
There is a book written for the novice conductor. It is by James H.
Laster, and it is titled "So You're the New Musical Director!"
published by Scarecrow Press, 2001.
Experienced conductors know that there are always questions to be
answered, and I'm simply trying to help out by answering some of them
in advance. If you may be in the running to conduct "Oliver!" in the
future, by all means print this off and stash it away.


"It's a depressing story." Yes, it is, but it isn't a depressing
show. Dickens was a social reformer, and used his writings to
emphasize what was wrong in his society, which he knew from his own
personal experiences. Three people die in the last couple of scenes.
Oliver's experiences as child labor are awful. You'll never look at
this show as a comedy, but there are light moments and illuminating
dialog and a happy ending just like in Gilbert & Sullivan. Our
audiences are leaving the theater invigorated and excited, not

"There's no Overture." True enough, and that really bothered me at
first. It's one page in the P-V score, half a page in the orchestra
parts, and makes no attempt to present a pastiche of "hit tunes from
the show." It's mood music, pure and simple. And it's crafted to
set the mood beautifully. The curtain opens after only 8 bars, and
you're into the scene and into the story immediately.

"There's no Entr'acte." Also bothered me at first. Eight bars of
music and the curtain opens. And again, it works. Not standard
musical theater practice, but it works, and draws you immediately
into the scene.

"There no Bow Music." Actually there is, but you wouldn't know it by
looking at the P-V score. It's No. 22, "Finale," reprises of three
songs, and the score shows the cast singing on all three. BUT,
simply don't have them sing, and what you have is very good bow
music. (See my discussion of individual numbers below.)

"There aren't any well-known, pre-sold hit songs." Well, except for
"Consider Yourself," that's a pretty accurate description, and
possibly the reason he didn't attempt a pastiche Overture. BUT, this
puts the show right in the same category as other Musical Theater
shows (as opposed to Musical Comedy), starting with "Oklahoma!" (or
even with "Showboat"). The songs arise out of the story, and reflect
the particular scenes and characters. Not something to worry about.
Use "Consider Yourself," "Who Will Buy," "Where Is Love," and "As
Long As He Needs Me" in your publicity.

Bottom line: Lionel Bart was a fine craftsman, knew exactly what he
was doing, and it all works as intended.


There is no recording that includes all the music including dance
breaks and crowd/fight scenes. That's very important, because it
means your choreographer and stage director will not have the music
to set their staging. The one we recommended to the cast is not the
RCA Original Cast CD, but I haven't found out what it was. It isn't
the best cast or the best technical recording, but comes the closest
to the original orchestration that the cast will be hearing. Forget
the movie. When it was made, Bart had lost control of his copyright,
and it's basically unusable as a reference.

OK, here's the one we recommended to our cast:

Recommended Recording: Jay Records Link - Amazon Link
Oliver!, Jay Productions LTD
Masterworks Edition - 1996 - CDJAY - 1298
National Symphony Orchestra, John Owen Edwards Conducting

And, if you're interested, our website is


We are community musical theater, all volunteer (including the
creative staff and orchestra), and we look for large scale shows that
will involve the most people, including children when appropriate.
(This is in contrast to the small-cast drawing room comedies that
most struggling community theaters look for.) When we announced
auditions for "Annie," little girls came out of the woodwork!
Auditions for "Oliver!" drew a large number of boys, as well as
girls. (Our stage director decided early on that we would use both
boys and girls for the Workshouse Children and Fagin's Gang, and the
Wardrobe folks took care of the differences.)

But "Oliver!" also drew a lot of adults to audition, including quite
a few who had not previously taken part in our productions. It's
unusual in that there are no real stars. Instead (and we considered
this a positive) there are many opportunities for second leads to
shine, and for good character actors. We had the most people
audition in our 14-year history (including munchkins, of course), and
cast 70 in the show.


Since you generally need to recruit your orchestra before you get the
rental materials, there are always some questions. Important note:
The original orchestration was for a smaller combo: 1 violin, 1
cello, bass, 4 reeds, 1 horn, 1 trombone, 2 percussion (set &
mallets), and presumably piano (although this is not obvious). If
you need to use a smaller orchestra for reasons of finances, pit
space, or whatever, I STRONGLY advise using the Combo Orchestration
rather than the Full Orchestration and then leaving out 2nd parts in
the brass, etc. It's unusual, it's there, it's available, so take
advantage. We used the Full Orchestration. See

Strings: There is pretty extensive divisi in the Violin 1, Violin 2,
Viola and Cello books, so you really need a minimum of two players on
each book. We have 3 on each violin part and 2 on the others, no
amplification, and it sounds great. Your concertmaster has to have
some serious chops for the 3 large cadenzas in "Reviewing The
Situation": good ear, good fingers, and gypsy vibrato! Lots of
tenor clef in the cellos. Acoustic bass (can't imagine what it would
sound like with electric bass!).

Woodwinds: Only 4 players needed, with normal orchestral doubles; no
saxes. All four parts are absolutely essential. The same books are
used for both the larger and smaller orchestrations, and in some
places the part is on 2 staves, one for the Combo and the other for
the Full. That isn't entirely clear to the players.

Flute and Piccolo: Well written, tasteful use of piccolo for effect.
Lots of scale work; needs good fingers.

Oboe and English Horn: We've had problems recruiting double reed
players in the past, but this year have a music education/oboe
performance major who's great. Lots of English horn; rewriting for
oboe would be a real pain. Same scale work.

Clarinet and Bass Clarinet: About equal use of both instruments.
Same scale work.

Bassoon: Last time we had a real bassoon in the pit was 14 years
ago, the year before our bassoonist this summer was born! He's a
middle school player, but doing a great job. We've used a bari sax
the last two summers. Sounded OK in "My Fair Lady," but a big
disappointment in "King & I." Yes, there's tenor clef. Wide range

Brass: Six players needed.

Trumpets 1 & 2: Added for the full orchestration, so less essential
and definitely less jazzy than many shows. Second trumpet may be
omitted, but it's better with it. Straight, cup & Harmon mutes.

Horns 1 & 2: Look at the Combo Instrumentation and you'll see why
this is probably the most demanding and the most satisfying 1st horn
part in all of Broadway! All the good licks were left in the horn,
and not transferred to the trumpets for the Full Orchestration.
You'll need to emphasize this to recruit a really fine 1st horn
player, accurate and with good high range. Second horn could be
omitted, but don't. It has independently important parts. Uses

Trombones: First part is probably taken directly from the original
Combo, and is essential. Lots of tenor clef. Second part could be
omitted, but again, don't do it. Both parts need good low range,
down to the low F. Bass trombone on the second part would work very
well, even though the extreme low range isn't required. It would
just sound better. Uses mutes, but I'm not sure which ones; probably
stright and cup.

Percussion: Really does need two players. We have everything on
their list except Vibraphone--no room for it! Xylophone gets used a
lot, and you should use a Musser M39 Pit Xylophone (no resonance
tubes, like an oversized set of orchestra bells, sits on a normal
restaurant bussing stand) if you can put your hands on one. Set part
is not jazzy, not very difficult. Mallets part takes some xylophone
technique. Only 2 chime tubes needed (not sure which notes).

The Piano Problem: First, there is no Piano-Conductor Score. What
they send is two copies of the published Piano-Vocal Score. Whether
the piano is actually needed was a question we answered by assuming
that the P-V score was a transcription of the full orchestration, and
it wouldn't make sense to double it on a keyboard. Well, yes and no.
If you use a pianist, the most important thing to work out is when
NOT to play, because for the most part it is a reduction. However,
there are occasional places where an essential arpeggio or accent in
the P-V score are not duplicated in the orchestra. Ideally the
conductor should conduct from the keyboard, and fill in those
essential places. Unfortunately, even though our conductor is a fine
pianist, we have a deep pit and he has to conduct from a rather high
platform to see the stage, so that isn't an option. We'd have been
better off using piano, especially No. 6, next to last bar; Nos. 8a
and 8b, next to last bar; No. 12, last bar; No. 16, 5 from the end;
No. 18, bar 1, 5 from the end; No. 26, bar 4.


Your production will not be the same as our production. I list what
we did simply as a guideline to what can be done. Please note that
Scene Change music was written to fit the original New York sets with
scene changes made by New York union stagehands. They often have to
be extended in community theater. I'll note what we did. The page
turns, at least in the string parts, are AWFUL! A certain amount of
photocopying, cutting and pasting is needed to make up for what the
copyist (the producer's brother-in-law, no doubt!) should have paid
attention to and didn't.

No. 1 - Overture & Opening Scene: Starting bar 5, I recommend using
an exaggerated crescendo-decrescendo on each 2-bar phrase. We used
one repeat of the "if necessary" section, but we had a LOT of
Workhouse Kids so we added time to fill in under their staging.
Starting at the Pomposo on p. 9, we did the first 9 bars of bassoon
solo, repeated it, then went on through A and B. Then back to ...

No. 2 - Food, Glorious Food: Warning to Vocal Director, do NOT teach
too fast a tempo starting at D, or you'll be stuck with it.
(Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent!) Once something
is learned, children can NOT make adjustments in it. Pomposo to the
end as written this time through. Again, because we had so many
kids, we repeated D to 3 before the end (the Vivo in the parts,
Presto in the score).

No. 3 - Oliver: Timing of the first 7 bars and at A is crucial.
Warning: If you let the singers take too fast a tempo at B, they
will NOT be able to get all the patter words in. Work on it with
them. The RCA CD takes this down a whole step.

No 3A - End of Scene: We needed more time for scene change, so
repeated E to the end in No. 3 and then played 3A complete twice

No. 4 - I Shall Scream: A nice scene to lighten things up. Impress
on your singers that they should SEEM spontaneous, but BE consistent!
Note: There is an ending bump in the orchestra on beat 2 of the last
bar which is NOT in the P-V score.

No. 5 - Boy For Sale: Done in front of the curtain, so we had to
tremolo while Bumble and Oliver got to the stage left wing and made
their entrance. Warning: The RCA recording takes this down a whole
step, and if Bumble practices with that CD he will have a rude
awakening when he goes to sing with the orchestra. We have an
excellent Vocal Director who got him to bridge to his high As very
effectively, giving it the plaintive affekt I think was intended.

No. 6 - That's Your Funeral: Omitted on the RCA CD. The words MUST
be understood! The violas sawing on their low C is a nice touch.
The "cha-cha-cha" ending is tacky, but what can I tell you!?

No. 6A - Coffin Music: Omitted on all the recordings. A very nice
touch. May be repeated if needed; we didn't. Clarinet has a very
quick change from bass at the end; a fermata on the last unison
tremolo helps.

No. 7 - Where Is Love?: On the CDs an intro is inserted and the
ending is shortened. Beautiful orchestration. The ending is
confusing until you understand it. In the P-V score the penultimate
bar is marked "Play if wanted" and C is 16 bars long including that
bar. In the orchestra books C is 17 bars long, the "optional" bar in
the score is not marked, and an additional bar of murmuring is added
before the last bar. We used the full 17 bars, and it works well for
our audiences. Violins are tremolo on the last bar; violas are not,
but should be; don't know about the cellos.

No. 8 - Next Morning: We took the Meno mosso at bar 9 (which should
be letter A, but is not so marked in the P-V score), not at B. Meno
is not indicated either place in the parts. Not on either CD.

No. 8A - The Fight: Goes like a bat out of congress! It will help
your string players to point out that their 2nd run is identical to
their 4th run. Not on either CD.

No. 8B - Oliver's Escape: Almost the same as 8A with an added 8-bar
intro. Not on either CD.

No. 9 - Consider Yourself: Betrays the Combo origin of the score.
The first two choruses use only Violin 1 and Cello. Watch out for
the switch from 6/8 to 3/4 between J and P. The basic 2-beat stays
the same; in fact the bass continues to play in 6/8. I would
probably keep the 2-beat pattern, but our conductor chose to beat the
3/4 as one in a bar, possibly to help the movement on stage. It's
very confusing until you realize what's happening.

No. 10 - Consider Yourself Encore: Our stage director cut out many
encores and reprises, but not all. We used No. 10 as scene change
music because we needed the time, but it is not sung. Omitted on
both CDs.

No. 11 - Pick a Pocket or Two: If your Fagin is consistent, a piece
of cake. We used the built-in reprise (bottom of p. 56), which is
omitted on both CDs. It's good for a laugh.

No. 12 - Intermezzo: Make sure your orchestra understands that the
first part is sleepy time, and A is morning.

No. 13 - It's a Fine Life: We take meno mosso at G (not marked), a
tempo for last 5 bars.

No. 14 - I'd Do Anything: I wish I knew what "Gavotte" means to a
Broadway writer. It seems to mean "imitation 18th century, but not
very"! RCA CD omits the 16 bar dance break at J.

No. 14A - Melos: We don't do this. I'd like to know what this title
means, as well. Not in either CD.

No. 15 - Be Back Soon: A silly song, but great fun! Segue as one to ...

No. 15A - Capture: In the orchestra parts, this number starts with
what is that last bar of No. 15 in the P-V score. RCA CD omits
entirely. Other CD uses the first few bars as an ending. Because
there is no recorded music to set the staging to, it's up to the
orchestra to figure out how to match the staging. In our case, we
jump from E to G. The three final chords leave everything up in the
air with their unresolved dissonance, probably exactly what Bart
wanted, but certainly leaving the audience wondering!


No. 16 - Oom-Pah-Pah: RCA recording starts at C, omitting all
introductory dialog. Other CD starts at the beginning but omits B.
Boring for the orchestra, but effective theater. Trombones playing
drunk a must!

No. 17 - My Name: Our Bill Sykes isn't nearly evil enough, but that
isn't your problem. Our concertmaster set all downbows for the first
2 bars and again 2 before A2, then alternating bowings. Works well.

No. 18 - As Long As he Needs Me: This song has been rescored in
every recording EXCEPT the RCA CD! Since the piano flourish in bar 1
is missing, I wrote a simple clarinet figuration. The original
scoring is just fine, thank you (except for the really tacky Las
Vegas ending!).

No. 19 - Change of Scene: Omitted in both CDs. We didn't need the
time because we have a very simple scene change, but used this as an
introduction to No. 20--otherwise no way to get the pitch.

No. 20 - Reprise - Where Is Love?: Serves as transition to Who Will Buy?

No. 21 - Who Will Buy: The madrigal opening is a real beauty spot in
the show. We cast chorus members with different, distinctive voices.
Long Song Seller is not needed. At E it's marked cut time but should
be in 4 so as not to rush. H to J omitted on both recordings. It's
a long dialog. J is in a bright 2.

No. 22 - Change of Scene: Exactly as is turned out to be just the
right length for us. Omitted on both CDs.

No. 23 - Reprise, It's a Fine Life: We omitted this, as did the RCA
CD. It is on the other CD.

No. 24 - Reviewing the Situation: The solo violin licks are
wonderful, and the cadenzas are classic. Make sure both the
concertmaster and Fagin understand that they represent the turmoil in
his mind as he "reviews the situation."

No. 24A - Change of Scene: We needed more time for the scene change,
so we stopped at the first note, 4 before the end, and went back to
the beginning. Omitted on both CDs.

No. 24B - Change of Scene: After the crew got the scene change down,
we cut this. Omitted on both CDs.

No. 25 - Oliver Reprise: We were going to cut this, but put it back
in because it advances the drama. From D to the end, serves as scene
change/curtain music. Omitted on both CDs.

No. 26 - Reprise, As Long As He Needs Me: We omitted this. On the
RCA CD. Rearranged on the other CD.

No. 27 - London Bridge: We needed a little more time, so here's
where we inserted No. 24B as an introduction. A major staged number,
and one omitted on both CDs, so the stage director had no music to
stage it to. And the music is tightly tied to the stage action. So,
after the first time with the orchestra, the scene was restaged.
Then, our Music Director watched the staging with a stopwatch in his
hand and revised the score to allow him to fit the music to the
action. A mess that got solved and is working fine. Your
solutions will be different, but here's what we're doing, (If it
makes you feel any better, I had to do the same thing in the last 2
scenes of "King & I" two years ago, since it was also staged without
reference to the musical underscore.)
Play first 5 bars.
Jump to 8 after A.
Jump from one before C to D.
Jump from E to F.
Jump from one before H to J.
Jump from one before L to 22 after L.
Omit 2 bars before N.
Jump from 2 after N to 11 after N.

No. 28 - Reviewing the Situation: This is the actual ending of the
show! Both CDs start at bar 11. Make sure the orchestra knows that
there is a solo violin pickup to bar 11, and even more importantly
that there are TWO pickup notes to the Maestoso ending.

No. 29 - Finale, Reprise, Food, Glorious Food: Beginning of curtain
calls. Our stage director predicted that if they opened their mouths
to sing, the audience would stop clapping, and he was right. So
don't let them sing! Just bow. We have a LARGE cast, so we repeated
the intro once and then repeated A and B once as well. Segue as one

No. 30 - Finale, Reprise, Consider Yourself: For additional time we
repeated C once, then went on. Everyone started singing at the
pickup to F, and the audience did hesitate to keep clapping, but when
it became obvious that it was a Big Finish they got back in gear and
on their feet. We ended with this, so I had to write an alternate
ending that's more grand than the written ending.

No. 31 - Finale, Reprise, I'd Do Anything: Our stage director hated
the idea of ending with this, so we cut it. That's why we needed a
big finish for No. 30.

No. 32 - Exit Music: Very straightforward, just the right length.

Sorry to go on so long, but I wanted to get this written while
everything is fresh in my mind. I will put it up on my homepage once
our departmental server starts working right and I remember how to do
that. Questions? Email me.

It's a great show. I recommend it to you.


John Howell
Assistant Music Director, "Oliver," Summer 2005
VOX 540-231-8411 or 540-953-1928
FAX 540-231-5034