02 April 2024

Behind the scenes of the musical Oliver!


As Masquerade rehearses for its upcoming production of the musical Oliver!, Valerie Burke, Simona Mamo and Romualdo Moretti discuss the balance needed to make the show both visually stunning and performer-friendly.

Oliver!, based on Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, follows the eponymous protagonist as he struggles to survive as a poor orphan in Victorian London’s underworld. Although the musical shines a light on the suffering of the poor of that era, it is also a heartwarming and playful show, full of catchy and uplifting tunes that have captivated generations. With its large cast, a musical like Oliver! requires not only skill to choreograph, but also the ability to make a production of this scale both visually striking and practical. Choreographer Valerie Burke’s work started long before the first steps were rehearsed. “Before choreographing, I analyse the lyrics, mood and context of each song in order to understand the emotions that it evokes, while keeping the story in mind,” explains Burke. “I then analyse existing choreographies and consider how to introduce unexpected elements or movements that subvert traditional expectations. By doing this, I can add an element of surprise and keep the choreographies looking fresh.”

In a musical with so many players, creating choreographies is complex, requiring precise planning and the coordination of large groups of performers. “You need to consider spacing, entrances, exits and transitions to ensure that everyone moves harmoniously, without collisions or confusion,” says Burke.

“It’s also important to create choreographies that challenge more advanced performers, while still being accessible and achievable for those with less experience and skill. Although complex, the process is also incredibly rewarding.”

However, the magic of musicals lies not just in the actors’ performances, but also in the world they transport the audience to – and Oliver! is no exception. The other two essential elements in creating the world of any theatrical production, especially one where time and place are so crucial to the story, are the set and costume design.

Both Romualdo Moretti and Simona Mamo, set designer and costume designer respectively, have had to recreate an environment that immerses the audience in the story, while also taking into consideration the movement of the actors during the performance.

“This musical has many scene changes and different props, which required a long process of discussions and meetings with director Anthony Bezzina before I could begin designing,” says Moretti.

“I went through three iterations of the set drawings before settling on the fourth and final design. We put great effort into making the aesthetic part coincide with the technical part, calibrating the spaces and making sure that the exits and entrances of the scenes and the props were easily manageable by the crew.”

As for the costume design, Mamo researched both the source material and Victorian England.

“We wanted to create as authentic a look as possible, but we also wanted to use whatever information we could find in the descriptions that Dickens himself wrote in the book,” says Mamo of her creative process. “There are many tiny details that might go unnoticed by the audience, but they help make each character look and feel real. We also had to create individual looks for the seemingly endless list of secondary characters! An added challenge was making new costumes and ageing them, but I found it all extremely interesting.”

“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Sir Cameron Mackintosh for granting Masquerade permission to stage this musical in Malta,” adds director Anthony Bezzina.

“I eagerly anticipate the opening night. I’m also thankful to our dedicated production team and creative collaborators, who have been instrumental in bringing this show to life for the Maltese audience and visitors alike.”

Lionel Bart’s Oliver! plays at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta, from April 5-14, with matinee and evening performances available. Part of the proceeds from an additional performance on April 14 at 7pm will be donated to Hospice Malta. Tickets are available at 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. This production is supported by Visit Malta. For more information, visit masquerademalta.com.

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