Urbane Waters wins role with a twist
By: Alexa Moses.  Date: 29 Nov 2001  Sydney Morning Herald

In one of the year's more surprising cast announcements, John Waters is slated to play Fagin in the Sam Mendes production of Oliver! Known for such urbane roles as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music and Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, Waters ``blew them away" when he auditioned for London-based producer Cameron Mackintosh.

Mackintosh plans to stage the show at Star City's Lyric Theatre in May. Waters said yesterday he was relishing the chance to follow in the footsteps of Alec Guinness, Ron Moody and Barry Humphries and pick a pocket or two.

``Fagin is very much a character role and I'm more associated with supposedly suave, sophisticated
roles like Captain Von Trapp. This is really me cutting loose and doing something that really is not what people expect."

Also from left field is the casting of Steve Bastoni as the thuggish Bill Sikes. Bastoni, Police Rescue's Constable Angelopoulos, is looking forward to performing in the musical he remembers from childhood. ``To play Bill Sikes is wild. I get to run around and be pissed and threatening and so, basically, I'll just do what I normally do."

Tamsin Carroll, who starred in the musical Shout!, will play Nancy, Sikes's girlfriend.

Australian producer James Cundall said he had no doubts about the casting. ``Often when you go into an audition, you think it could be X, it could be Y, and it comes down to which colour shoes they've got on. John, who is the quintessential leading man, blew them away."

Waters said his audition success came down to his natural dancing style being like Fagin's ``free-form" movement and the performance piece he chose.

Oliver, the Artful Dodger and the other children will be cast in the new year.
So when it was announced this week that Waters had been selected for the plum role of Fagin in the lavish new Cameron Mackintosh production of Oliver! the industry went into shock. How on Earth could the man who's considered the last word in debonair play so completely against type? How could someone so evidently dashing sink so low?

Waters sips at his latte with a faint smile playing on the lips that his ALittle Night Music co-star Geraldine Turner once breathlessly revealed delivered one of the best kisses in the business.

"Fagin," he says, thoughtfully. "It's a particularly good role for me. It allows me a lot of freedom. Being sort of suave and sophisticated isn't me personally; it's not John Waters. It's only something I've been called on to do a lot. I can do a good facsimile of suave and sophisticated, but there's a Fagin inside me that's just waiting to get out, leap around and go crazy."
Sydney Confidential The Daily Telegraph 11th February 2002  By: PETER HOLDER and NAOMI TOY

Multitude turn out for five roles
THERE was more glitter, lycra and crop tops than at a Britney Spears concert outside Opera Australia's Surry Hills headquarters yesterday as thousands of young hopefuls tried for a role in the new production of Oliver.
More than 2000 girls queued along Elizabeth St hoping to get their break into showbiz.  While the mood remained friendly throughout the long day, the competition was fierce with only five roles (and five understudy positions) up for grabs in the male-dominated production.  Aged between six and 15, the girls were put through their paces in groups of about 100, singing one of the musical hits ``Consider Yourself''.Clearly a little overwhelmed by the response, members of the production company vowed to stay all night to see everyone who had come to try out. ``We expected about 1000 and more than 2000 girls have shown up,'' a spokeswoman said. ``It's been unbelievable. ``We'll be here until 9 or 10 o'clock tonight seeing everyone.''
Those shortlisted will be recalled during the week for final auditions.
John Waters has been cast as Fagin, Steve Bastoni will play the evil henchman Bill Sikes and Tamsin Carroll plays Nancy.
At the launch in Sydney yesterday, stage veteran and member of the adult cast Stuart Wagstaff introduced the two boys.
``I look forward to working with you. I end up being your grandfather, so I demand some respect," Wagstaff joked.  ``It's many years since I worked with kids. I played Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music in 1963 and had to beat most of the children daily."
Wagstaff will play the principal character of the kindly Mr Brownlow and said he was thrilled to return to the stage after a year off.
John Waters, Steve Bastoni and Tamsin Carroll are the three other adult actors cast in principal roles.
Keegan, the elder of the two Olivers, said he found out almost two weeks ago and was so excited he did dozens of celebratory cartwheels.
The former North Rocks Public School captain, now a year seven student at The Kings school in Parramatta, has not had acting or dancing lessons but has honed his singing skills over about 16 months.
Oliver! begins at Star City's Lyric Theatre on May 23 and will run until September before moving to Melbourne from October until February 2003.
In November 2001 it was announced John had won the prized role of Fagin in Oliver! The Musical.  Oliver opened on May 14 2002 at the Lyric Theatre Star City Casino in Sydney. It starred John as Fagin, Tamsin Carroll as Nancy, Steve Bastoni as Bill Sikes. Also starring: Stuart Wagstaff, Mark Mitchell, Keegan Joyce as Oliver and Matthew Waters as the Artful Dodger.
Oliver's army  May 17 2002  Sydney Morning Herald.
Judy Adamson goes backstage to meet the cast of Oliver! and get a taste of the gruelling rehearsal schedule that drives a major stage musical. It's a painful wake-up call for the muscles. The chorus of Oliver! - some feeling the pinch after a heavy night - are limbering up for a long day's rehearsal, and just watching them hurts. Legs are stretched at angles that would send most of us to hospital, but amid the jokes, banter and occasional grunt, it all gets done.

Some are dancers, but there is a strong sprinkling of actor/singers, and - refreshingly - they're not the cheesy, airbrushed type. There's one tall chap with a pallbearer face, another mischievous type with a curly-headed mop, a few beefier blokes, and women with figures ranging from the supermodel to the buxom.

The director of the musical, Graham Gill, says a reason for this lies in the writing of Charles Dickens, who wrote Oliver Twist, the novel on which Oliver! is based.  "Dickens's descriptions of characters in his novels are very specific," he explains. "He makes an absolute point of showing that people - even the most minor of characters - don't fade into insignificance, and often the descriptions are in terms of the way people look. He names them in a similar way, giving them a kind of name that might be almost the way they appear to be. Such as Sowerberry - what does it make you do when you eat a sour berry?" He screws his face up, then laughs. "It's a very considered approach and I didn't want to lose that.  So when you see the show - the season begins this week - you'll be able to look at any cast member onstage and see a fully rounded character."

For those who don't remember the story, Oliver Twist is an orphan who, after a series of nasty experiences (including being sold by his workhouse proprietor), runs away to London and links up with Fagin, the pickpocket entrepreneur, and his little gang of child thieves. As a nice and unspoiled lad, he is naturally bad at this new career and gets caught. But after subsequent underworld toings and froings - which include murder, mateship, bribery, ribald humour and a hell of a lot of singing - all ends happily when Oliver is reunited with his grandfather.
We all want some more  May 27 2002   Sydney Morning Herald
OLIVER!  Reviewed by John Shand Lyric Theatre, May 23. 

Few musicals have seeped into the collective consciousness as has Oliver!. For 42 years Lionel Bart's mostly ingenious take on Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist has bridged the generational divide, thanks to Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two and As Long As He Needs Me.

This Australian production re-creates Cameron Mackintosh's London show, originally directed by Sam Mendes and choreographed by Matthew Bourne. It fizzes and pops with energy, carried on the wings of William David Brohn's brilliantly detailed orchestration, and the bursting vitality of Bart's songs.

As whittled down as Dickens's labyrinth of coincidences and suspense had to be, as much as cheerfulness came to outweigh despair, one theme to poke its head out of the fun is crushingly relevant in a time of rising crime. While public debate, hijacked by the menial-minded, spins around police numbers and penalties, "What," it dares to ask, "about the causes?" Although the crooked Fagin lurks at the centre of the web of poverty and villainy, the show could be subtitled "The Tragedy of Nancy", she being the only character to face a real dilemma and grow from it. Tamsin Carroll's portrayal was spirited and likable.

John Walters as Fagin coiled into gleaming-eyed life in his songs, Reviewing The Situation even outshining Got To Pick A Pocket in the comic collision of naked greed and very thinly veiled cowardice. The characterisation slipped, however, between songs.
Was it political correctness that dissipated the Jewishness? This was also a younger and more mobile reading of the wily, snide piper. Bart's Fagin may be less despicable - more paternal, even - than the Dickens character, but there could be more consistency and creeping menace about him.

It was a masterstroke of Bart's that Sikes says not a word in Act One. Thus he has become all the more sinister by his first snarls, and Steve Bastoni had the physicality to underpin his threats, not to mention a bull terrier to sink its teeth into the part of the bafflingly faithful Bullseye.

Keegan Joyce embodied a suitably demure, pure-voiced and charming Oliver. Matthew Waters as the Artful Dodger was younger and less worldly than might be expected, yet this cuter reading still worked, and he knocked off a delightfully cheeky I'd Do Anything.

Sally-Anne Upton milked the comic and repulsive possibilities of Widow Corney with verve, as did Philip Dodd as the put-upon, cadaverous Mr Sowerberry. Mark Mitchell is still expanding into the monstrously pompous Mr Bumble, which can easily be excessively caricatured. Stuart Wagstaff was an unassumingly benign Mr Brownlow.

Director Graham Gill and choreographer Geoff Garratt have sustained a ripping pace, working their enthusiastic ensemble deftly and dynamically by turns. Their efforts have been facilitated by the clever set transitions of Anthony Ward - epitomising how music and design can coalesce - with a monumental St Paul's lording over the sordid doings of London's underclass. Squalor is eschewed in favour of looming oppression, brightly contrasted with the chocolate-box sweetness at Mr Brownlow's, all served admirably by David Hersey's lighting.
Aficionados will not be disappointed, and it has all the ingredients to breed another generation of converts wanting more.
Oliver! The Musical.  Articles, Reviews & Pictures.
Waters still runs deep 07/12/2001 The Sun-Herald.  By Sue Williams.
Even though there is a Fagin stirring in John Waters, he remains the man with 'It' to burn.

He strolls casually into the cafe in Leichhardt, nods his head almost imperceptibly to the staff in greeting, orders his regular large latte, then slides into the seat opposite me, all in one smooth motion.

He's tall, dark and handsome; all impenetrable dark glasses, black collarless shirt, and fetchingly ruffled hair. I cross glances with a woman sitting on the other side of the cafe gazing at him wistfully. Embarrassed, she looks away.

Yes, at 52, and newly turned a grandfather, John Waters still has It as much as he did when he first broke into the national consciousness. That was as a good-looking 29-year-old (nothing like having a reporter age you by ten years - John was in fact 19 !!) in the first production of Hair, then he became one of our best-loved matinee idols in the TV classics Rush and All The Rivers Run.

These days, the accomplished actor-musician seems to have a stranglehold on the market for suave and sophisticated older men. Need a sexily domineering Henry Higgins for My Fair Lady? Call Waters. Looking for an enigmatically brooding Captain von Trapp to play opposite Lisa McCune in The Sound Of Music? Check his agent. How about the older man in The Graduate? Just get him.
Really? It's hard to believe. Sitting there, still resolutely behind those dark glasses, speaking softly and smelling faintly of garlic, he looks a picture of solid, dependable older-man charm. He's an entire world away from that nasty, scheming, grizzled bloke who taught armies of homeless young kids to pick a pocket or two on the grimy streets of poverty-stricken London.

But no, you'd be surprised. After all, he is originally from London, a £10 Pom who proved one of the biggest bargains of the 1960s. And, while he's never picked a pocket, as a kid he did once steal a packet of Woodbine cigarettes from a shop. It was only the stark failure of that first experiment that turned him away from a life of crime for good.
"I'd been sent out to buy stuff for my Mum and Dad and I nicked a packet of 10 from the counter of the local shop," Waters confesses. "I smoked one of them, but then the guilt overcame me so much that I tried to close the packet and sneak it back into the shop and put it back on the counter. I succeeded, but you wonder about the person who bought the packet and wondered why one cigarette was missing. I had too much in the way of conscience about it."

Even today, however, he still sometimes muses about what might have been. "I sometimes reflect on what would be the best possible heist," says Waters, who lives with his partner, Zoe Burton, now working as a theatre usher, after two divorces, two grown-up children and his new six-week-old grand-daughter, Lily. "You'd have to net money in a bloodless crime, and not pensioner's life savings or anything like that, but from some faceless corporation.

"The one everyone always thinks of is the Great Train Robbery, apart from the guard who got hurt. They stole what would have been about £15million today, and that's why people like Ronnie Biggs became almost heroes. Everyone loves to see movies like The Bank. Banks aren't very popular, and why should they be?"

In addition to being fascinated by the idea of the perfect crime, Waters is eager to claim that the character who is just about to become such a big part of his life (The show kicks off on May 23 at Star City's Lyric Theatre for a 16-week run before moving to Melbourne.) is simply misunderstood.

"People think of Fagin as the baddie of the piece and he is a schemer, but Bill Sikes is the real bad 'un," Waters says. "Fagin is a survivor. In reality, he is a criminal and an exploiter of children, but there are indications that he cares about their welfare, rather than just the loot. The challenge is to make him a criminal, but somehow endearing, too."

And if there's anything Waters relishes more than a good challenge, it's hard to imagine what it might be. Over the years he's done everything, from working as a driver to singing and playing bass guitar in the rock'n'roll band The Riots, from winning the AFI Best Actor award for the 1988 movie Boulevard Of Broken Dreams to playing six months in London's West End with his own play about John Lennon, Looking Through A Glass Onion.

When his sister Fiona came to Australia to join him - his mother also lives here these days - she was shocked to the core by his celebrity status.  "When we were in Perth, I remember he got chased into a shop by a group of women," says Fiona. "It was completely outrageous. I couldn't believe it at first. To me he was just the nice big brother who used to let me stand on his feet as he walked around. But he's always been so nice and I think most people take an instant like to him. People talk about that suave and sophisticated image, but to me what you see with him is what you get."

That never stops people fantasising about him, however - or, indeed, his toying with their imaginations. Take that trademark scar on his cheek, for instance. Over the years it's been talked about as the result of gun-running in Algiers or a bar-room brawl in Marseilles. In fact, it was a souvenir of the time he was walking near home, one foot on the pavement and one in the gutter.
A passing moped knocked him down and one of the pedals caught him on the face. The doctor simply mopped up the blood, put a sticky plaster on it and sent him back home.  "The doctor didn't treat it right," says Fiona. "But it doesn't bother him at all."

Certainly, very little bothers Waters. In the rocky showbusiness world he stands out as someone who manages always to turn the unexpected setback to his own advantage. When The Graduate closed early, for instance, and he was faced with a few empty months before rehearsals started on Oliver!, it didn't even occur to him to sit back and whine about the vagaries of his profession and the recessionary effects of September 11.

Instead, the self-starter entrepreneur within him immediately began plans to take his Glass Onion back out on a tour of country towns, he decided to revive his cabaret show Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well, and he's even talking of making an album of his favourite songs and eventually doing a concert tour.  "I love finding new things to do," he says. "That narrative leading man is a nice mould to be in at times, but it's also good to be able to do completely different things, too. Fagin, for instance, is a character role and a long way from von Trapp."

But will we be able to dismiss all those dashing heroes from our minds? The woman on the next table probably has her doubts. She's still staring hungrily.   Oliver! premieres on May 23 at Star City's Lyric Theatre.
Theatre buffs able to get some more of Oliver 12 March 2002  Illawarra Mercury

The famous line ``please sir I want some more" has finally been answered for Oliver fans, with an Australian production of the stage musical launched yesterday.
The stage classic has been absent from Sydney for about 30 years and half that time from Melbourne, a spokeswoman for Oliver's British producer Cameron Mackintosh said yesterday.

The curtain also was raised yesterday on who will play the lead character in the production, which begins in Sydney in May before going to Melbourne.  Because of restrictions on the number of times a child actor can perform over one week, roles in the show based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist have been double-cast.

Keegan Joyce, 12, from North Rocks in Sydney's north-west, and nine-year-old Madison Orr, from Monterey in the southern suburbs, were chosen from 600 hopefuls who auditioned for the part of Oliver.
The day Metro sat in on rehearsals, the ensemble worked for most of the day on Oom-Pah-Pah - a rowdy, hectic tavern number, which by 4pm had most of them exhausted ... and then they ran through it again.
Elements of some scenes have set choreography, but others are workshopped so that the cast can create the mood and movements themselves.

It's all in line with the template set in place by Matthew Bourne, who created the choreography for Cameron Mackintosh's revival production in 1994, directed by Sam Mendes, which ran for a record three years at the London Palladium.
Most of the directors of music and text for the Sydney production have been with the show since 1994. Gill has been a director with Mackintosh since the 1980s, while the choreographer for Sydney, Geoff Garratt, was dance captain and assistant to Bourne for the original production, but found the latter role so tough that he eventually opted out of performances. This is partly because Garratt was, and still is, in charge of the kids - from their dance routines to their behaviour onstage. There are two separate child casts, which means he deals with 20 bouncy and talented children aged seven to 15 every day.

He says the trick in working with the kids is "to build up their trust and confidence. It's creating an atmosphere that they can work in, but not being so loose that you don't get the work done and they're undisciplined."
Thirteen-year-old Matthew Waters, who is one of two Artful Dodgers and a veteran of such shows as The Boy from Oz, makes it clear the children hang on Garratt's every word.
"Geoff is just amazing with what he can do," he says. "He can think up a whole dance routine in about five minutes."
Keegan Joyce, one of the boys playing Oliver, is well aware of the massive workload he is facing - first year of high school, sport and a big role on the professional stage. With a poise beyond his years, he quotes the saying "If you want to get a job done, ask a busy man to do it for you". A busy man? He grins: "Well, I'm a busy boy."
Joyce was encouraged to audition for Oliver! by fellow cast members from an amateur production of The Secret Garden, and with no dance or drama background won the title role. He admits he's still "amazed" but is now focusing on his greatest challenge: being the character, rather than just playing it.
"You're not the actor Keegan Joyce playing Oliver Twist, you're Oliver Twist being Oliver Twist ... that's the hard part," he says.

Off in a smaller rehearsal room, stage veteran John Waters is under Gill's watchful eye, wheedling and scheming his way through one of the show's best songs, Reviewing the Situation. As Fagin, the comic baddie of the piece, Waters gets to be deliciously seedy.
He muses during a break that he was delighted when asked to audition for Fagin, as here was someone who could never, under any circumstances, be considered suave.
"Fagin is a character role which, when I think about it, I am perfectly suited for," he says with a smile. "For me the acting part is playing those sophisticated types, because it's not me. It's something I can adapt to, and have made my living at from time to time, but now's the time for a bit more of a laugh."
The character created by Ron Moody in the 1968 film of the musical has become almost as classic as the film itself. Waters is aware there will be some in the audience who will come expecting to see Waters as Moody, but he's not about to gratify such wishes.
"I want to be the sort of Fagin that people want to see, but at the same time do it my way ... but you want to be the definitive Fagin for each audience member. That's what live theatre is all about."

The clock ticks around to 5.30pm. Most of the adult cast have gone home, but not Tamsin Carroll, who's playing Nancy - the ultimate tart with a heart - who's in love with the brutish Bill Sikes (Steve Bastoni). Carroll has been here since 10am, sung her lungs out through the afternoon in Oom-Pah-Pah, and will be here until 8pm working on a scene with the kids.
She's tired, but devoted. She even admits to crying the previous weekend - the first time she saw the "gang" of young lads troop onto the stage - "because it's just such a beautiful show ... the children are so hard-working".
That Oliver! could have this kind of impact on someone in the production speaks volumes about the musical's capacity to charm. This kind of longevity is rare, and Gill puts it down to the melodies: "Everybody knows these tunes."
Waters agrees that the songs are "extremely catchy", but believes it's more because they are so good at telling the story - and the story, for him, is the thing.
"I rather like the fact that this is a musical about an extraordinarily black scenario," he says. "It's tragic. This boy [Oliver] is hideously treated, Bill Sikes bludgeons his poor girlfriend to death and then dies in the end. It is pretty black. But there's hope shining through the blackness."
Director: Graham Gill
Stars: John Waters, Tasmin Carroll, Steve Bastoni, Mark Mitchell, Stuart Wagstaff, Philip Dodd, Keegan Joyce
Where: Lyric Theatre, Star City, Darling Harbour
When: Previews until Wednesday, season from Thursday until June 16
How much: $33-$78 plus booking fee
Bookings: 9266 4800