Oliver! has been stalking me for a few days. The 1968 movie was on Turner Classic Movies last week, and earlier today, the enjoyable Lost Vinyl from the Internet Archive Twitter feed offered up the original cast recording as its hourly gem.
I played the Artful Dodger in a high school production because there weren’t enough males to play all the parts. Our show was pretty good because our school, Westisle, has a large, professional theatre, and as the principal’s wife was the drama teacher, we had a very generous budget!
My first year of university was a disaster, so I took a year off and went to London to work, becoming an usher at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in the fall of 1985. The musical 42nd Street was playing and it was a big hit. When I started, the older female role of Dorothy Brock was played by Georgia Brown, who had originated the role of Nancy in the original production of Oliver!, and when Georgia left the show, Shani Wallis took over, and she had played Nancy in the 1968 movie.
I had a nodding acquaintance with both of these women, and they were lovely. I worked for a while at the main souvenir stand in the Drury Lane rotunda, and Shani would come through just to get out of the rather dismal backstage area during a long break, and she always said hello. I would sometimes see Georgia walking through Covent Garden in the afternoon before a show, no big deal.
During rehearsals for that year’s Royal Variety Performance, which was held at Drury Lane, I snuck into the theatre during a break to watch from the back of the stalls. A small woman with dark hair walked past and stood in front of me, dressed in sort of a safari-style pant suit and hat (remember, mid-80s), and I thought, oh, there’s Georgia, she must be in the show, too, lovely.
The woman left and there was a bit of a pause in the rehearsal. I was talking to another usher when someone announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Joan Collins!” and there she was, the lady in the safari pant suit minus the hat, appearing for a publicity photo call. She was one of the biggest stars in the world at that time because of her role on the prime time soap Dynasty, and was one of the many stars appearing on that year’s show. Every time Joan would move and strike another pose, the 35 mm cameras would all go off, volleys of shutter bursts chukachuakachuakachauka shshshshshhshsh, like someone squishing cellophane in their hands. It was transfixing, and a little scary.
I should have been far more impressed with having a nodding acquaintance with Georgia Brown than I did when I was 19, but I wasn’t, and that’s the silliness of youth. Her theatre and film credentials were solid, but perhaps most famously she performed with her Oliver! co-star Davy Jones (later of The Monkees) on the same 1964 Ed Sullivan show that featured the US live television debut of The Beatles. Ho hum.
As for Joan Collins, she never blocked my sight line with her big safari hat again, but her sister, Jackie, cursed at me and another usher at the end of the Royal Variety Performance when we wouldn’t let her leave the auditorium to join Joan backstage right after the curtain fell. That story involves the Queen, Andrew Lloyd Weber, the IRA, and a dust pan, but that will have to wait for another time because I just pulled something trying to pick up all those names I just dropped.