A workhouse in Dunstable, England is visited by the wealthy governors who fund it. While a sumptuous banquet is held for them, the barefoot orphan boys who work there are being served their daily gruel. They dream of enjoying the same “Food, Glorious Food” as their masters. While eating, some boys draw straws to see who will ask for more to eat, and the job falls to a boy named Oliver Twist. He goes up to Bumble and Widow Corney, who run the workhouse and serve the gruel, and asks for more. Enraged, Bumble takes Oliver to the governors to see what to do with him (“Oliver!”). A decision is made to have Oliver sold into service. Bumble parades Oliver through the snow, trying to sell him to the highest bidder (“Boy for Sale”). Oliver is sold to an undertaker named Mr. Sowerberry, who intends to use him as a mourner for children's funerals. After his first funeral, Noah Claypole, Sowerberry's apprentice, insults Oliver's mother. Oliver attacks Noah in fury and Mrs. Sowerberry forces him into a coffin while Noah fetches Bumble. Oliver is too angry to be intimidated by Bumble, who places the blame on not keeping Oliver on a diet of gruel, instead of meat, which made him strong. Oliver is thrown into the cellar as further punishment. Alone in the dark with a roomful of empty coffins, Oliver wonders (“Where is Love?”). While clutching the window grate, Oliver pushes it open and escapes.
After a week on the road, Oliver reaches London. Soon, he crosses paths with the Artful Dodger, who decides to take Oliver under his wing (“Consider Yourself”). Dodger leads Oliver to his home, a hideout for a group of young boys housed by the elderly Fagin. Oliver naively believes the items they had actually stolen are “made” by them and Fagin and the boys play along for their amusement. After a laugh, they subtly explain to Oliver they are actually a pickpocket gang. At the same time, Fagin helps the boys practice their stealing while proclaiming his belief that (“You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two”) to get by. Once the boys go to sleep, Fagin sneaks off to meet with an adult thief with whom he does business, Bill Sikes, who burgles houses, while Fagin's gang only steal out of peoples pockets. Sikes, unlike Fagin, is brutal, neglectful and merciless. Sikes' girlfriend, Nancy, waits for him at the pub and sings of her contentment with the life she shares with the reprobates of London while covering up her own broken dreams of the life she wishes she had with Sikes (“It's a Fine Life”).
Back at the hideout, Oliver witnesses Fagin counting his hidden treasures and taking a little more than his fair share from Sikes' loot. Initially furious that he has been discovered, Fagin calms down and has Oliver go to sleep. Nancy and her sister Bet arrive in the morning to collect some money from Fagin on behalf of Sikes, and meet Oliver. The boys mock Oliver for his politeness towards Nancy, which she finds charming. Dodger attempts to be just as gentlemanly towards Nancy and the boys and Fagin join in the fun (“I'd Do Anything”). Fagin sends the boys out for the day and Oliver asks to go with Dodger, which he agrees to (“Be Back Soon”). While on the job, Oliver witnesses what Dodger really does and is apprehended for Dodger's theft of a wallet belonging to a gentleman named Mr. Brownlow. Afraid that Oliver will tell the police all about them, Fagin and Sikes send Nancy to court to observe him. Oliver is too terrified to say anything, but before the drunken magistrate can finalize the verdict, a bookseller who witnessed the act arrives and proclaims Oliver's innocence. Brownlow takes in Oliver, while Sikes and Fagin send Dodger to follow them, to Nancy's displeasure.
Oliver has been living in the residence of wealthy Mr. Brownlow for several days now. From the balcony, he watches the merchants and other folk of London sell their wares (“Who Will Buy?”). Sikes has been keeping an eye on Oliver, firmly believing he may tell on them. He and Fagin are determined to get him back and employ Nancy to help them as Oliver trusts her more than he does the others. Nancy refuses as she wants Oliver to have a life free of thievery, but Sikes hits her. As Nancy reluctantly follows Sikes, she sings of her unwavering love for him despite his ways (“As Long As He Needs Me”). The next day, Brownlow entrusts Oliver with some books and money to be delivered to the bookshop. As he leaves, Brownlow notices a striking resemblance between Oliver and a portrait of his long-lost niece Emily, who ran away after being jilted by her lover. While walking through the streets of London, Oliver is sidetracked by Nancy and is kidnapped by Sikes and taken back to the hideout. Following a brief confrontation with Fagin over Oliver's five pound note, Sikes is defied by Oliver, who in turn is protected by Nancy. Sikes becomes increasingly violent, leading Nancy to leave. When Fagin warns him to calm down, Sikes threatens him with his life, should their operation be compromised. Realizing Sikes' violent nature, Fagin begins reconsidering his life as a criminal and weighs all his options, but decides to keep to his old ways after “Reviewing the Situation”.
Bumble and Corney pay a visit to Brownlow after he begins searching for Oliver's origin. They present a locket belonging to Oliver's mother, who arrived at the workhouse penniless and died during childbirth. Brownlow recognizes the locket as his niece's and throws the two out, enraged that they selfishly chose to keep the trinket and information to themselves until they could collect a reward for it. Meanwhile, in an attempt to introduce Oliver to a life of crime, Sikes forces Oliver to take part in a house robbery. The robbery fails when Oliver accidentally awakens the occupants, but he and Sikes get away. While Sikes and Oliver are gone, Nancy, fearful for Oliver's life, goes to Brownlow, confessing her part in Oliver's kidnapping, however, she refuses to state the name of Fagin or Bill Sikes for her own protection. She promises to return him to Brownlow at midnight on London Bridge. She then goes to the tavern. When Sikes and Oliver appear, Sikes orders his dog Bullseye to guard the boy. Nancy starts up a lively drinking song, hoping that the noise will distract Sikes while she and Oliver get away (“Oom-Pah-Pah”). Bullseye, however, alerts Sikes, who gives chase.
As Oliver and Nancy share a farewell embrace at London Bridge, Sikes catches up and grabs both of them and throws Oliver aside. Nancy then tries to protect Oliver by pulling Sikes away, angering him. He then drags her behind the staircase of London Bridge and violently bludgeons her, murdering her. He then takes off with Oliver, but Bullseye betrays his cruel master and returns to the scene where Nancy has succumbed to her injuries. Bullseye's presence alerts the police to their suspect and the dog leads Brownlow with an angry mob to the thieves' hideout. Sikes arrives at Fagin's den and demands money, revealing that he killed Nancy, as well. Upon seeing the approaching mob, the thieves disband and flee. Sikes runs off with Oliver, using him as a hostage. During the evacuation, Fagin loses his prized possessions, which sink into mud. Sikes attempts to flee to an adjacent roof, but is shot dead in the process by the police. Fagin makes up his mind to change his ways for good. Just as he is about to walk away a reformed man, Dodger appears from nowhere with a wallet he stole earlier. They dance off into the sunrise together, happily determined to live out the rest of their days as thieves (“Reviewing the Situation (reprise)”) while Oliver returns to Brownlow's home for good (“Finale: Where is Love?/Consider Yourself”).
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