It is one of the most iconic and well-known films of the 20th century, Alan Parker and Paul Williams’ Bugsy Malone, has inspired generation after generation of little gangsters to pursue a career in musical theatre. Sean Holmes’ production was Olivier nominated when it originally ran at Lyric Hammersmith, and now an updated version is touring the UK, making a stop at London’s Alexandra Palace for the festive season.
The all-black backdrop and metal fire escape sets the scene as a depressed prohibition era New York, but as we enter Fat Sam’s Speakeasy the stage is filled with bright and dazzling colour, letting us in to the fun that was happening behind closed doors. Bugsy Malone is a spoof of the gangster movie genre, and here two rival gangs battle it out on the mean streets, but their weapons are custard pies and splurge guns, and the fight to control the latter leads to many whipped cream related incidents.
Bugsy (Gabriel Payne) himself is a boxing manager, who is torn between getting involved in Fat Sam’s gang warfare with Dandy Dan (Desmond Cole), and falling in love with Hollywood wannabe, Blousey. Tallulah, is after Bugsy too, but let’s hope Sam doesn’t find out.
The film, of course, is famous for having an all-child cast playing the roles of adults. In Holmes’s production there’s a mix, with all the principal characters played by young performers and the ensemble roles played by adults. It takes a bit of getting used to, but a couple of scenes in and it feels like there’s nothing out of the ordinary at all.
Part of that is down to the talented young cast (there are multiple actors for each role, so they can rotate between shows), who enchant the audience with their professionalism. While it might be Bugsy’s name on the outside of the theatre, most would agree that it’s Fat Sam (Albie Snelson), in a gloriously comic role, that steals the show, while Fizzy (Aidan Oti) and BabyFace (Cherry Mitra) melt every heart in the room.
The children sing all of their own songs (they were dubbed in the movie) and they all do a fantastic job, particularly Tallulah (Jasmine Sakyiama) and Blousey (Mia Lakha). The adult cast are equally as good, and although the programme credits them all as ensemble, audiences should look out for a masterclass in slapstick from the actor playing ‘Knuckles’.
Drew McOnie’s energetic choreography makes for some incredible big song and dance numbers, with ‘Bad Guys’ and ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’ being prime examples. Jon Bausor’s designs sees some lovely bits of set drop in, and all in all it has a beautiful aesthetic, the act one finale, involving a car chase is a joy to watch.
This stage version of Bugsy Malone is a cracking good night, and an ideal show for the festive season; great songs, brilliant dance routines, and custard pies flying left, right and centre – this grand slam musical has something for everyone.