Oliver Twist continues at Salle Gaveau, Paris until 31 December.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It is unusual for an original French musical to stand up well in comparison to a classic British offering, but this is the case with the new musical Oliver Twist – approaching Charles Dickens’ text from a different angle and thus avoiding the shadow of Lionel Bart’s famous stage and screen versions.
In fact, Shay Alon’s tuneful score sounds more Broadway, complete with brassy overture dance breaks and kick line-style codas.
Though the movie version of Oliver! was a moderate success in France, the stage musical has never been staged in Paris, so librettist and lyricist Christopher Delarue doesn’t have to worry about comparisons. He is able to start afresh with a very different storyline, perhaps better developed – especially in the darker and more realistic Act II – than in any French musical so far. How refreshing that the songs do not overwhelm the story for a change.
The first good move is to avoid doing one more children’s musical, so many of which flourish during the holiday season in Paris.
The show is actually almost devoid of children. Triple threat The Voice Kids winner Nicolas Motet in the title role is already 16 and his sidekick, the Artful Dodger, is now an adult (strangely called Dickens and played by Benoît Cauden).
Well-seasoned French musical performers such as Gilles Vajou (doubling as Mr Brownlow and Mr Dumbly), Catherine Arondel (doubling as Rosa and Mrs Dumbly) and Arnaud Leonard as the threatening Bill Sax – with his showstopping Act I finale ‘Fastoche’, complete a high caliber cast.
In addition to David Alexis as Fagin and the brilliant newcomer Motet as Oliver, the evening belongs to Prisca Demarez in the role of Nancy.
The six-piece band is conducted by the composer himself and is sounding wonderful. Jean-Daniel Vuiller-Moz’s costumes, Alban Sauvé’s lighting, Nathalie Cabrol’s creative use of video and Emmanuelle Roy’s minimalistic but efficient sets all add up to a first class production.
But the main credits must go to Ladislas Chollat for his claver direction and to Avichai Hacham for his brilliant and inventive choreography.
Whatever its success, this first musical ever staged in the Gaveau concert hall, Oliver Twist will be a turning point in the history and development of the French musical, taking it steps further from the mindless, book-less and tuneless spectacles of the recent past.