11 March 2024

An Oliver! Cast with Oom-Pah-Pah!


Malta Today Sun 10th March 2024

Next month, a new production of Lionel Bart’s world-famous musical Oliver! will open at the MCC. Laura Bonnici chats with DOROTHY BEZZINA and MIKHAIL BASMADJIAN, who play the iconic Nancy and Bill Sikes, among an extraordinary cast of some of Malta’s finest musical theatre performers.

With its award-winning score by Lionel Bart, heart-warming story and timeless charm, Oliver! has captured imaginations for decades. Its colourful characters have graced the world’s stages since 1960, delighting audiences with instantly recognisable musical numbers such as Food Glorious Food, I’d Do Anything, Where is Love? and Oom-Pah-Pah.

Today, Oliver! remains one of the greatest family musicals of all time, having won three Tony Awards, as well as six Academy Awards for its much-loved film adaptation starring Oliver Reed and Shani Wallis.

This April, a new production from Masquerade Malta promises to join this classic musical’s hall of fame. And since telling its story of an orphaned boy searching for love in Victorian London’s underworld – based on Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist – requires a world-class cast of performers, Masquerade has assembled a veritable who’s who of Malta’s musical theatre talent.

Dorothy Bezzina and Mikhail Basmadjian lead the cast as Nancy and Bill Sikes respectively, alongside a large ensemble of young performers.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be playing Nancy!” says Bezzina, whose long list of music and theatre credits rivals some of the world’s most talented artists. “Malta has such a vibrant musical theatre scene and it is a great honour to share the stage with this dream of a team. I also love working with young talent. They’re such a diligent, fearless generation and never cease to surprise me!” Basmadjian, who has been a familiar face on stage, television and film for the last 35 years, agrees. “This is such a great team of actors, dancers, singers and performers. And the kids are something else! The talent, passion and dedication they have is impressive to say the least. When I was their age, there were few opportunities for youths to exhibit their talents, let alone decide to pursue a path in showbusiness or theatre. I’m so overjoyed that this is now becoming a culture and that Malta is nurturing such gifted individuals, setting new highs in terms of quality, repertoire, variety – and aspiring towards acting becoming recognised as a legitimate profession.”

Joining Bezzina and Basmadjian in the cast of Oliver! are Thomas Camilleri as Fagin, Cliff Zammit Stevens as Mr Bumble, Kateriana Fenech as Widow Corney, Paul Portelli and Katherine Brown as Mr and Mrs Sowerberry, Rachel Fabri as the Strawberry Seller and Joseph Zammit as the Knife Grinder – each with their own dizzying stage and musical theatre resumes. Camilleri has joined the European casts of Evita and Les Misérables, among others, while local audiences will also remember him as Miss Trunchbull in Masquerade’s sell-out run of Matilda The Musical, alongside the equally internationally experienced Rachel Fabri as Miss Honey. Meanwhile, tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens is a graduate from the Royal College of Music and has been described by the Daily Express as ‘a revelation’, with an acclaimed operatic repertoire.

Directed by anthony bezzina – among a creative team that includes musical director Kris Spiteri, choreographer Valerie Burke, set designer Romualdo Moretti and costume designer Simona Mamo – the rehearsal process for Oliver! has focused on challenging the talented cast to bring its iconic characters to life.

“Audiences expect to see Bill Sikes defined as rough and evil,” shares Basmadjian. “However, I search for that tiny bit of humanity that every living being must have, somewhere deep inside. Sikes is a ruthless killer, but he is also a businessman with a dark sense of humour. I am hoping to find another layer to the man, while shaping his voice and walk.”

Bezzina, too, is exploring the many facets of her character. “Nancy has so many faces,” she says. “She loved, she was abused and she emotionally struggles, but she keeps her spirit alive. I think her story resonates with so many of us because, like her, we face our own challenges, but it’s our resilience that defines us after all. In Nancy I see a woman who, despite her vulnerability, embodies so much strength and determination.”

And audiences of all ages will resonate with many of the themes that keep Oliver! in the world’s hearts and minds, she concludes. “You are in for a real treat! This is one of those shows where every song is a stone-cold classic, but also addresses themes like social justice, poverty and the resilience of the human spirit. And I hope it will continue to inspire the next generation of performers.”

Lionel Bart’s Oliver! plays at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta, from 5-14 April, with matinee and evening performances available. Tickets are available at www.showshappening.com. Oliver! is a Masquerade Malta Production by special arrangement with Cameron Mackintosh, with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, freely adapted from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. All authorised performance materials are licensed and supplied by Music Theatre International: www.MTIShows.co.uk. For more information, visit www.masquerademalta.com.

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