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Oliver! It's clear we're going to go along

Festival Productions is the team behind the annual Christmas musical at the National Concert Hall, and this year it's the family favourite, Oliver!

“I love this role – Fagin is a wonderfully complex character”

 

The traditional panto is alive and well and this year thousands of us will take a trip to the panto in the run up to Christmas. It’s a much-loved part of the season for lots of families. But once the big day is over many families have another tradition – a trip to the National Concert Hall for the big Christmas musical, which opens on Dec 27th and runs through to the new year.

Festival Productions is the team behind the annual Christmas musical at the National Concert Hall. The musical is always a family favourite – an all singing, all dancing West End type of show – and the audience come back year after year and generation after generation. Last year The Wizard of Oz played to packed houses for 11 shows – and Annie, The Sound of Music, and Bugsy Malone are also in their repertoire. All are cast with the best of musical theatre talent – mostly Irish actors - alongside orchestra, chorus, dancers, children’s chorus and sometimes even dogs. 

Left to right: Mark Lohan (Oliver), Roisin O’Sullivan (Nancy), Darragh Maloney (Dodger) and Tony Finnegan (Fagin).

This year Oliver! is the show and it’s a real favourite of Irish audiences. The company expects to see adults and kids of all ages in the audience throughout the run.

“We will have kids of every age coming to see it – and for many of them it’s their first experience of real live theatre” says Vivian Coates, Co-Artistic Director of Festival Productions. “Panto is great fun – but a fully staged musical theatre production is something else entirely! And despite all the technology that children nowadays consume, and their short attention span, we still hold their wonder and interest for 2 and a half hours – and that’s magical!”

Oliver! is one of the most beloved British musicals, vividly bringing to life Dickens' timeless characters with its ever-popular story of the boy who asked for more. It has been running in the West End and on Broadway on and off since 1960 with many memorable productions. The role of Fagin has been played on stage and screen by Sir Alec Guinness, Ben Kingsley, Ron Moody, Jonathan Pryce, Robert Lindsey and Rowan Atkinson among others. It is a signature role of actor and director Tony Finnegan, who has played it countless times on the Irish and UK stage. Tony takes it to the NCH this Christmas for Festival Productions – the company he and partner Vivian Coates jointly own.

Roisin O’Sullivan as Nancy and Tony Finnegan as Fagin.

“I love this role – Fagin is a wonderfully complex character,” says Tony. “There is malevolence in him certainly, but it is balanced by a great sense of mischief and fun. He is essentially quite lonely and terrified of a bleak future, and he substitutes money for the love that is missing in his life.  The scenes in Fagin’s den where he interacts with the kids are funny but also moving. Dickensian London was a cruel place for orphaned kids, and Fagin was a sort-of father to these children – as well as a gang leader!”

Much of Tony’s career is spent working with children. “I’m usually directing them, so it’s great to switch to being an actor alongside them and get to enjoy some of the fun on stage too!”

Although the show doesn’t open until December 27th, the production is well underway. “We start in January every year, thinking and planning and casting”, says director Vivian Coates. “We have a repertoire of shows we know work really well for family audiences, but we also introduce new shows as the rights become available. Then, during the Summer, we go on sale, and audition our children etc. And then from October it’s full on with rehearsals. We have a very strong team around us, and it runs like a well-oiled machine – well mostly! Each show brings its own challenges, but we rise to them!” he says.

Left to right: Mae Higgins, DJ Forkan, Ethan O’Connor, Noor Salem.

This year’s cast sees Tony take the stage with West End musical theatre star Roisin Sullivan, reprising the role of Nancy which she played to great acclaim in the National Concert Hall in 2015. They are supported by over 100 singers, dancers and street urchins in a show bursting with colour and energy. Rebecca Leonard has been the company’s choreographer of choice for the past number of years. “I first worked with Rebecca in the Grand Opera House in Belfast on a children’s production, and I loved how fresh and innovative her choreography is”, says Tony. “There is literally no one better in this industry for choreographing children – and they also love her, which is a bonus!”

Multi award winners Shane Ffrench (Music Director) and Wilson Shields (Chorus Master) oversee the music. Shane comes to Dublin directly from the USA where he is Associate Music Director for the Broadway National tour of “The Color Purple” and Wilson is Ireland’s busiest music director and longtime friend of both Vivian and Tony. OLIVER! is brim-full of many well-known popular show tunes such as “Consider Yourself”, “Pick A Pocket or Two”, “As Long As He Needs Me”, “Oom-Pah-Pah” “Reviewing the Situation” and “I’d Do Anything” – so lots to do there.  “Our cast have to be great singers, great actors and great dancers”, says Vivian Coates. “Oliver! Is a show which demands all three – literally everyone on stage needs to be a triple-threat! We take great care to cast only the best and most talented kids, and it shows on the stage I think.”

Oliver! Opens Dec 27th and runs until Jan 3rd, with tickets from €29 available at www.nch.ie