FeaturedMusicalNorth WestReview

Bugsy Malone (The Opera House, Manchester)

David Cunningham

Writer: Alan Parker

Composer: Paul Williams

Director: Sean Holmes

Bugsy Malone begins in a misleading manner. The show opens in a grim monochrome alleyway outside a speakeasy with a melancholy tune playing in the background. But there is hope – the stage door of the nightclub is prominently signposted offering the chance to escape into make-believe specifically children pretending to be gangsters.

For years Fat Sam (Albie Snelson) has run the underworld rackets unopposed but suddenly he has a rival, Dandy Dan (Desmond Cole) has developed a ‘spurge gun’, capable of firing bursts of foam, that is far more lethal than the traditional way of dispatching enemies- by custard pie. As Fat Sam’s supporters dwindle, he turns to former boxer turned promoter Bugsy Malone (Gabriel Payne) for assistance. But Bugsy has distractions, former girlfriend / femme fatale Tallulah (Fayth Ifil) sings at the speakeasy and new girl in town Blousey Brown (Delilah Bennett-Cardy) has caught his eye.

Alan Parker’s script is more in the style of Damon Runyon’s lovable Guys and Dolls than Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The violence is the show is suitable for a young audience- after being gunned down gangsters behave as in a playground, rising to their feet, sighing ‘’Aw, man’’ and exiting the stage. Paul Williams is a master of the lost art of composing catchy songs which stick in the memory. Infamously, Parker chose to overdub the vocals of the young cast in the film with adult singers, but director Sean Holmes has faith in his actors and secures great results.

The principal roles are filled by young actors joined by an adult ensemble who excel in performing Drew McOnie’s energetic choreography. The script makes knowing tributes to gangster movies like Goodfellas and On the Waterfront, McOnie follows this approach staging the nightclub performances of Tallulah and her backing singers in glamourous Hollywood style.

Director Sean Holmes maintains the innocent sense of children at play throughout. Although Jon Bausor’s costumes are perfect recreations of stylish mobster garb the clothes are not always a perfect fit- like children trying on their parents’ clothes. The characters are aware they are pretending and regularly break the fourth wall wondering aloud how a neon sign can suddenly appear or calling for a scene change and, when it does not occur, grumblingly undertaking the necessary work. In a show full of tributes Holmes uses flickering lighting and very enthusiastic performers for a car chase in the slapstick style of the Keystone Cops.

Not all the young cast have developed comic timing so some of the gags become laboured. The only real limitation is, however, financial. The cost of laundering so many expensive costumes prevent the use of actual spurge guns, so the weapons make a conventional rat-a-tat noise with limited splatter on clothing, and a gloriously messy shoot-out never materialises.

With memorable songs, fine performances and a cheeky attitude Bugsy Malone is a reminder of the carefree days of childhood.

Runs until 12th November 2022

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. 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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