Book: Alan Parker
Music and Lyrics: Paul Williams
Director: Sean Holmes
Bugsy Malone has its origins as a 1976 gangster musical film directed by Alan Parker and played entirely by children. Parker’s imaginative concept and the catchy songs by Paul Williams made it an enduring family favourite.
The story covers a turf war between rival Chicago gangs. One gang has gained the edge by discovering superior artillery: the iconic ‘splurge’ guns. The title character is a hustler on the fringes of the mobsters’ world. He is drawn into the conflict in order to raise money to transport his starstruck girlfriend to Hollywood.
Rather than having a full company of children, there is a central core of 21 children alternating in 7 central roles, supported by a versatile adult ensemble. In performance, this works seamlessly as the adults enter into the fun completely, matching their style to the junior principals.
The set, by Jon Bausor, is a black wall with fire escapes and a range of entrances which effectively capture the Film Noir genre. This is versatile enough to represent most settings but it is relieved by a brightly coloured bar insert for the scenes set in a speakeasy.
Drew McOnie’s inventive choreography, well-executed by the company, perfectly evokes the 1920s, whilst delivering lots of humour and fun. Sean Holmes’ direction delivers a slick, stylish show, beautifully costumed, again by Bausor.
The young principals power the show extremely well. In the cast for this performance, Jasmine Sakyiama opens the show with great assurance as Tallulah, the worldly gangster’s moll. She is consistently polished throughout, delivering her signature song and some smoky ballads with a precocious style. Mia Lakha as Blousey Brown, the aspiring showgirl, shows a nice balance of innocence and spirit and a sweet, flexible voice.
Albie Snelson as Fat Sam makes the most of the opportunities for humour the script presented and played up to the audience with real maturity. A moment where he finds himself left to make the scene change alone as all his hoodlums have been ‘splurged’, is extremely funny and he even makes capital from the Theatre Royal’s challenging raked stage. Other cast members also deliver the laughs, particularly as the dim-witted hoodlums and in the well-used device of an audition sequence.
In the title role, Gabriel Payne delivers a stellar performance. It takes a while for the script to give him a chance to shine but, when it does, he shows his versatility as an actor, singer and dancer.
Particular highlights of the show are two set-pieces: a frantic, strobe-lit car-chase and an ingeniously staged boxing scene. A ‘megamix’ style curtain call completes the fun and has the audience on their feet, clapping along.
The second act seems to flow more quickly than the first, perhaps because of the need for exposition, but it is generally pacey enough. The songs retain their effectiveness and, as well as the classic numbers, some less well-remembered gems are given a chance to shine in this production. This is an engaging, fun-filled family show that should please audiences of all ages.
Runs until 20th August 2022.