Dear Cameron Mackintosh: Review the situation, suggests a theatre producer to the impresario who has refused a licence for a school production of Oliver] (CORRECTED)
Tuesday 01 February 1994
What a wonderful compliment you have paid to school play productions. You've forbidden a bunch of dedicated North London kids to put on Oliver] (to which you control the rights) because you fear it will keep audiences away from your own London Palladium mega-revival of Lionel Bart's classic musical.
Are you, our greatest living - or at least richest, which isn't necessarily the same thing - theatre impresario losing all sense of proportion? Do you seriously imagine that the ticket touts will be thronging the school gates in Camden, while Argyll Street, home of the Palladium, is bereft of queues?
In recent years, you have paraded yourself as a champion of young people's involvement in musical theatre. You have supported organisations which encourage new composers and librettists, and have funded (some would say excessively) a visiting professorship of contemporary theatre at Oxford, whose first holder was Stephen Sondheim. The young flocked to hear Sondheim pontificate.
Only a few months ago, you paid for your old school, Prior Park, near Bath, to open its own purpose-built theatre. The first production was . . . yes, Oliver].
And here's the rub. Oliver], now more than 30 years old, is a tired old horse. Lionel Bart's words and music are flawless as musicals go. But how many of us have had to sit through the prancings and squealings of schoolboy Fagins and 12-year-old Nancys, under-directed and physically incapable of conveying even a quarter of the pizzazz of Ron Moody and Georgia Brown, stars of the original production, with sets by Sean Kenny, the ground-breaking modernist?
Still, we have to face the fact that good school musicals don't grow in large quantities on educational publishers' trees, and until something else that's both unforgettably tuneful, and has parts for at least 30 kids, drops into drama teachers' laps, there will be a good many more school Olivers - Cameron Mackintosh permitting.
And come to think of it, if I've really got to see that show again, I'd infinitely rather be sitting on a school chair, next to Bill Sikes's doting parents, listening to the juvenile orchestra tackling 'Food, glorious food' in two keys at once, than paying through the nose for a glitzy Palladium version. Raw enthusiasm, like these Camden kids would have displayed on stage if you had let them, warms the heart 10 times more than the over-polished Bonnie Langford sparkle of the stage-school kids the Palladium will probably use.
So, Mr Mackintosh, you may have thought you were doing us all a favour you said no to that school Oliver]. But if you really want to be seen as something better than a Shaftesbury Avenue shark, think again. (Enter Mackintosh as Fagin, singing thoughtfully: 'I'm reviewing the situation.')
ON 1 February we published a feature letter by Humphrey Carpenter headed 'Dear Cameron Mackintosh'. This letter attacked Mr Mackintosh personally for his perceived role in refusing a licence for a school production of 'Oliver]'
In fact, although Mr Mackintosh's company, on behalf of the owners of the first-class rights in 'Oliver]', asked last August that amateur licences be withdrawn within the London area, in accordance with normal custom and practice within the theatre when a first-class revival is being planned in the same locality, Mr Mackintosh does not administer the licensing of amateur rights, which is done by an independent agency on behalf of an American company.
When he learned that the children of St Aloysius Junior School in Camden had rehearsed an amateur production of 'Oliver]' without the school first obtaining a licence, he, personally, on behalf of the schoolchildren, intervened with the independent agency which administers the amateur rights, and arranged that the ban would be lifted in respect of all licence applications received by that agency between the date of the ban in August 1993 and 7 February 1994, on condition that all school performances concerned take place before the end of 1994.
The Independent and Mr Carpenter accept that this is the case and that the criticism of Mr Mackintosh in Mr Carpenter's feature letter was unfounded, and they both apologise for the misleading impression of Mr Mackintosh which that feature letter may have given.
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