Media call for "Oliver the Musical" at the Belconnen Theatre.
Cast members including Oliver Twist (Ben Burgess), left, during a
scene.

Media call for "Oliver the Musical" at the Belconnen Theatre. Cast members including Oliver Twist (Ben Burgess), left, during a scene. Photo: Graham Tidy

Ickle Pickle Productions artistic director Justin Watson said, ''Anecdotally, I've heard Oliver! is the show done by the most individual companies around the world.''

Ickle Pickle will increase that number by one when its production of the the Lionel Bart musical, directed by John Alsford, opens at Belconnen Theatre on Friday.

Based on the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, it is the story of an orphan, played by Ben Burgess, 13, in 19th-century London. Oliver hopes for a better life as he falls in with a gang of pickpockets led by Fagin (Michael Jordan).

Media call for "Oliver the Musical" at the Belconnen Theatre.
Cast members including, Mr Bumble (Michael Miller), Widow Corney
(Debra Byrne) and Oliver Twist (Ben Burgess) right,  during a scene.

Media call for "Oliver the Musical" at the Belconnen Theatre. Cast members including, Mr Bumble (Michael Miller), Widow Corney (Debra Byrne) and Oliver Twist (Ben Burgess) right, during a scene. Photo: Graham Tidy

Musical director Susan Davenport spent months programming the music from the original orchestrations to provide a fuller sound than a small instrumental group could make in the intimate theatre. And it has only increased her admiration for Bart's achievement: he wrote the music and lyrics despite not being able to read music.

''He would sing it to someone who would transcribe it,'' she said.

''He had all these lovely melodies locked in his head and needed to get it all out somehow.''

Jack Taylor, 15, who plays the brash young thief known as the Artful Dodger, said, ''I don't think I've ever been in a production where there were three sections to one song.''

That's Consider Yourself, a huge production number with more than 50 people on stage.

And songs like that one, Food Glorious Food, As Long As He Needs Me have had lives beyond the musical, being recorded and sung many times.

But the musical retains some of Dickens' social criticism. Michael Miller plays Mr Bumble, the pompous beadle in charge of the harsh parish workhouse where Oliver was raised.

Miller said of Bumble, ''He's a man who desperately, desperately wants to be somebody, in his uniform, his approach to life, he's all about image.''

And he dines well while the orphans subsist on gruel. He sells Oliver into an apprenticeship when the boy famously asks for ''more''.

Miller said, ''He's very self-righteous and he exploits children for his own ends.''

The character provides an interesting comparison to Fagin, who also exploits children, who go out and steal for him, but who provides much more of a semblance of family than the selfish Bumble.

Oliver! is on at Belconnen Theatre on Friday and Saturday (these performances are sold out) then January 17 at 7pm, January 18 at 11am and 7pm, January 19 at 2pm, January 20 at 2pm, January 22 to 25 at 7pm and January 25 at 11am. Tickets $26/$22.50. Bookings: 62752700 or canberraticketing.com.au