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Reviewing the situation : Oliver! and the musical afterlife of Dickens's novels

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library
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  • Literature
  • Musicology


This project presents an analysis of various musical adaptations of the works of Charles Dickens. Transforming novels into musicals usually entails significant complications due to the divergent narrative techniques employed by novelists and composers or librettists. In spite of these difficulties, Dickens's novels have continually been utilized as sources for stage and film musicals. This dissertation initially explores the elements of the author's novels which render his works more suitable sources for musicalization than the texts of virtually any other canonical novelist. Subsequently, the project examines some of the larger and more complex issues associated with the adaptation of Dickens's works into musicals, specifically, the question of preserving the overt Englishness of one of the most conspicuously British authors in literary history while simultaneously incorporating him into a genre that is closely connected with the techniques, talents, and tendencies of the American stage. A comprehensive overview of Lionel Bart's Oliver! (1960), the most influential Dickensian musical of all time, serves to introduce the predominant theoretical concerns regarding the modification of Dickens's texts for the musical stage and screen. These issues include the history of utilizing songs in theatrical adaptations of the author's novels, the tendency of composers to eliminate the darker elements of his works when adapting him to the family-friendly standards of the musical genre, the modification or elimination of Boz's narrative voice in such adaptations, and finally, the cultural exchange that is often essential to inserting the British writer into an American medium. Each one of these theoretical issues is then examined in greater depth through the exploration of additional Dickensian musicals including Leslie Bricusse and Cyril Ornadel's Pickwick (1963), Rupert Holmes's Drood (1985), Alan Menken's A Christmas Carol: The Musical (1994), and various other adaptations produced in the years following Oliver!

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