For a while a biopic of Lionel Bart, the gay composer of the legendary musical Oliver!, has been in the works. Well now it’s moving towards the screen, under the title Consider Yourslef, with Deadline reporting that Geoffrey Rush has signed on to play the lead role, with Stephen Fry, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Matt Lucas and Michelle Dockery also onboard.
Of course, as Rush can’t really play Bart as a young man, Al Weaver will take that on.
Bart is an interesting figure – something he realised himself, as at one point he wrote a musical based on his own life – as he was born in 1930 into poverty as the youngest son of Galician Jews who’d escaped the pogroms against them in Central Europe (Bart’s original surname was Bergleiter). His parents treated him as a child prodigy and he built a small reputation as a painter. A teacher also told him mother and father he was a musical genius, however Bart never applied himself, so that even when he almost accidentally got into music as an adult (after his painting dreams didn’t pan out), he never learned to read or write musical notation.
He wrote a few revues and then found success penning pop songs, including Cliff Richard’s Living Doll, but he skyrocketed to the top of the British cultural scene with the massive success of Oliver!. Following that he became the first person ever to have three musical playing simultaneously in the West End. However he never managed to create another musical that was even close to being as successful Oliver!, and indeed after his initial success he lost huge amounts of money and made some rash business decisions – including selling his Oliver! rights for far less than they were worth – to keep some of his later, unsuccessful projects on the stage.
He had problems with drink, drugs and depressions and until his final years he also kept his sexuality hidden from the public, including being romantically linked by the media to the likes of Judy Garland and Alma Cogan despite having relationships with men in private. Despite his problems and lack of hits, throughout the 70s he was a major celebrity, which is what allowed him to mount his flop autobiographical musical, Lionel!, in 1977.
Bart died in 1999 following a long battle with cancer. Thankfully in his final years he did manage to find some success as well as benefiting from revivals of Oliver. He also became the subject of someone else’s musical play, It’s a Fine Life, in 2006.
It’s a real rags to riches story and now it’s being turned into the original musical film Consider Yourself by Elliot Davis (Loserville: The Musical), and choreographer Peter Darling (Billy Elliott: The Musical). Vadim Jean (Leon The Pig Father) is set to direct. The movie will be looking for deals at the Berlin Film Festival, with the hope of shooting later this year.