Bugsy Malone The Musical – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book: Alan Parker

Words and Music: Paul Williams

Director: Sean Holmes

Bugsy Malone (the film) started when, the programme tells us, Alan Parker wanted to make a film his children would enjoy. The resultant exuberant film is noted, of course, for its child cast and its use of splurge guns firing cream rather than the usual, more unpleasant variety of weapon. Subsequently, Parker’s stage adaptation came to life in 1983, with several revivals, the latest, of course, being this one initially performed at the Lyric Hammersmith.

We’re transported to prohibition-era New York and a story of the rivalry between two underworld gang leaders, Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. Dandy Dan has access to splurge guns, while Fat Sam is still using the more old-fashioned cream pies, so it seems there’s only one way this can go, especially when almost all of Fat Sam’s gang find themselves splurged and out of the game.

Bugsy Malone is a stylish, but broke, boxing promoter. He meets new girl in town, Blousey when she tries to audition for Fat Sam. For Malone, it’s love at first sight, but the path of true love, of course, doesn’t run smooth and Blousey has doubts when she sees Bugsy in compromising positions with Tallulah, an established singer at Fat Sam’s. Can Fat Sam get splurge guns to even up the conflict back to mutually assured destruction? Can Bugsy help his friend, Fat Sam, and win back Blousey’s trust?

It’s very much the child cast in the spotlight and, unlike the film, they do their own singing. And there are some great performances to be seen. On press night, Jasmine Sakyima’s Tallulah has a mature bluesy and sensual voice, for example, in My Name is Tallulah, while Mia Lakha’s Blousey has a sweet voice with a jazz belt behind it. Lakha shows Blousey gaining in confidence as time passes as well as her growing insecurity over Bugsy, for example in the song I Feel Fine. Sakyima’s Tallulah is outwardly confident but also able to betray the inner vulnerability that she feels.

Fat Sam is brought to strutting life by Albie Snelson, with his increasing paranoia and desperation clear, while Desmond Cole’s Dandy Dan, with greatcoat around his shoulders, is suitably menacing. Gabriel Payne is believable as the loveable rogue Bugsy, desperate to take his new love to Hollywood.

Supporting the child cast is an ensemble of adult actors who switch from gangsters to down-and-outs to dancing girls with ease. Drew McOnie’s at times athletic choreography allows them to show off their skills to the max, recreating a 1920s feel to proceedings. John Bausor’s ingenious set is largely empty, with gantries and staircases upstage and with elements flown in to create the Speakeasy or docks. Bausor also maintains the stylish period feel in the costumes with broad-brimmed hats and wide-legged trousers, as well as sparkling costumes for Fat Sam’s dancers.

The pace before the interval is occasionally sedate as we meet the characters and learn about their predicaments. But the second half bursts into life as the battle for New York escalates and we hurtle towards the final scene (at least partly in a memorable car sequence).

While Bugsy Malone is great fun and undoubtedly feel-good, it has its flaws, principally the patchy pace in the first half. But when it hits its stride, it does so with gusto, providing a colourful, action-packed denouement—great fun for all the family.

Runs Until 14 August 2022 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Feelgood fun

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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