Steerforth/ Mrs. Micawber/ Fisherman
David Copperfield the man
Mr. Peggotty/ Fisherman
Emily/ Young David Copperfield/ Fisherwoman
Ham/ Mr. Micawber/ Doctor
Agnes/ Creakle/ Landlady/ Fisherwoman
The above is the minimum cast requirement of seven; three woman, four men. The maximum size is very large indeed since Gaol, at the beginning of the second act, (No Fun), the whole tempest scene and the finale suit a very large cast and chorus.
Set against the poverty and social injustice of Dickensian London (A Tide's Drained out the River), the story of Copperfield is seen through the eyes of Rosa Dartle. Although abused by the egoistic but charming Steerforth, Rosa still loves him, though he is dead. Unable to face this truth she inhabits an inner world (Sea Theme). Copperfield assists her to break free from her madness by helping her to tell the story of Steerforth's life. She begins with the meeting of Steerforth and David at school (Creakle's Dance). Steerforth is busy organising his network of extortion and bullying when he meets David. For a moment, in the presence of the innocent boy, he glimpses himself as he really is, cynical and opportunistic (Playground Games).
The story moves on some years and David and Steerforth are in the home of Mr. Peggotty in Yarmouth to meet David's surrogate family. The household is celebrating the engagement of Emily and Ham (Emily and Ham). Steerforth quickly dismisses Ham's innocence as ignorance and begins his seduction of the beautiful Emily (Flames in Heaven). The party finishes and Ham knows his engagement to Emily is over, she has been captivated by Steerforth's upbringing and charm. Alone, he confronts the pain of his broken heart (All That it Takes).
Mr. and Mrs. Micawber enter pursued by creditors. They offer fiscal advice and discuss the perils of mismanaged finances (Gaol).
Agnes tries to warn David, whom she has loved since they were children, that Steerforth is a dangerous friend but David, fascinated too by his patron's effortless charm, rejects her advice and storms off (Go on Loving You).
A few weeks later, back in Mr. Peggotty's home, David and his host await the arrival of Emily and Ham after their day at work. Mr. Peggotty lights a candle and puts it in the window to light the path for Emily. He explains that he has done this for her ever since she was a child and will probably continue to do it when she has married and moved away (Light in the Window).
Ham enters without Emily and breaks the news that she has eloped with Steerforth. The first act ends with a trio in which Emily, Ham and Mr. Peggotty each sing of their hopes and disappointments (Trio). Mr. Peggotty resolves to search the world for Emily and bring her back.
Mr. Peggotty's search brings him to decaying London (Gaol). Here Mrs. Micawber and friends remind him of Victorian attitudes to women (No Fun).
Suddenly Mr. Peggotty catches sight of Emily. She is lonely and miserable, for having eloped abroad with Steerforth she has been spurned by him and has returned on her own to England. Faced with the reality of earning her living in London as a prostitute she clings to the memory of her brief love affair (Muddled Up).
Mr. Peggotty rescues Emily from her unhappiness and suggests they can start life again in the New World (Light in the Window [Reprise]. From this point the music to the second act is virtually continuous - often using themes from the first act). Emily resolves to write Ham a letter of explanation.
David is sent to Yarmouth to deliver the letter (Sea Theme). There is a terrible storm brewing during his journey and, as he arrives in Yarmouth, a ship is being dashed by a fierce sea. David goes down to the shore with the other townsfolk to see if anything can be done to help the sailors aboard ship (Mountainous Sea).
Even above the wind and waves, David recognises the last sailor left clutching the rigging as Steerforth (Sea Theme).
Ham arrives on the beach and prepares to swim off on a rope to save a fellow seaman, unaware of the sailor's identity. David pleads with him not to go but Ham explains his broken heart has left him nothing to live for and he wades off towards the ship.
Rosa recounts the sea's final surge, a vast wall of water that breaks over the ship sweeping Ham and Steerforth into the boiling sea. It is the moment of her own catharsis; she realises Steerforth is dead and died loving no one (Playground Games - instrumental reprise).
The bodies of Ham and Steerforth are brought ashore (Trio - instrumental reprise). David comforts Rosa and is joined by Agnes. They are reconciled. David declares that he has learned that each person must live with their dreams, loves and loyalties in the world of their frustrations and disappointments: Ham gave up his life of disappointment; Steerforth rejected love and loyalty. Rosa lived vicariously in the real world whilst inhabiting the world of her dreams. But now she has faced the truth about Steerforth and as her nightmare fades, the dawn begins to break and David, Agnes, Emily, Mr. Peggotty and Rosa sing a quintet in which they voice their own bonds of love and loyalty (Go on Loving You).
The story over, the cast look to the wider world and the withering away of the social injustice Dickens sought to expose (A Tide comes up the River). The play finishes with a chorus (Copperfield).