The musical Oliver!, a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ orphan-lit classic Oliver Twist, opened in London in 1960. When the show jumped from its original theatre to the city’s famed West End, it started a successful — and then unprecedented — run of 2,618 shows that stretched across ten years.
One of the first lads to play the role of the Artful Dodger was a Manchester-born teen named David Jones who, by the halfway point of the decade, had dumped ‘David’ for ‘Davy’ and was one-fourth of the pre-fab pop band The Monkees. And in 1964, a 13-year-old London local named Phil Collins — yes, that Phil Collins, the future frontman of the band Genesis and bajillion-selling solo superstar — tried out to become one of Jones’ equally Artful successors.
“After multiple auditions, and recall after recall, much to the surprise and excitement of my thirteen-year-old self, I’m chosen for the part,” Collins wrote in his autobiography, Not Dead Yet. “As far as I’m concerned, street-smart, wisecracking Dodger is the best kids’ role in the show. Oliver, that simpering goody two-shoes? No chance.”
Collins’ name was printed in the program for less than a year, until just after his 14th birthday when his voice literally changed during a show, while he was belting out one of the first-act showstoppers. “I know what this means,” he wrote. “I soldier through the second half, but my voice is shot. The entire theater knows it; from beyond the stage-lights, I can sense a shuffling in the stalls […] That, there and then, is the end of my time playing The Artful Dodger, the best part for a kid in all London.”
After chatting up some of the house musicians who played during the show, the now out-of-work teen decided that maybe he’d take a crack at playing the drum set a relative had given him several years earlier. Huh. Wonder how that turned out?
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Featured image courtesy of: Isaac Cruikshank, public domain.