“Bugsy Malone” as a family show, finds the delicate balance between what’s adorable and entertaining. The young “Unders” deliver the comical lines and impressive vocals, while the “Overs” (the adult part of the cast) shine while performing complex choreography. It’s a kind of show for everyone, which keeps not just the kids, but also the parents charmed – and makes for a wonderfully festive evening out (look out for the fabulous Christmas trees and holiday treats and drinks in Alexandra Palace!).
“Bugsy Malone” has quite a story – it started in 1976 as a musical comedy film, a spoof on the classic gangster movies of the prohibition era. It has turned the casting upside down, by placing child actors in the roles of gangsters and putting whipped cream-powered machine guns in their hands. It’s a peculiar approach, but somehow – it works, and still delivers fantastic time to audiences, even 46 years later.
We follow the story of Fat Sam, a shady yet likeable speakeasy bar owner, and his battle for power (and for splurge guns) against Dandy Dan. In the meantime, we get to know the title Bugsy (Gabriel Payne), a boxing promoter, who falls in love with an ambitious young singer Blousy. The story speeds up (especially in the second act) and eventually, Bugsy ends up working for Fat Sam in an epic heist. After the almost-happy ending, the cast unites on stage in a fun megamix performance, and that’s when most of the audience is already on their feet.
The first cast reveal, especially when Fat Sam (Albie Snelson) shows up in his classy pinstripe suit, with a real gangster stage presence – is beautifully executed, in a way that makes everyone laugh instantly. The mix of the seriousness of the main story, and the cuteness of the young actors, is a weapon that fires exactly as it should. Some jokes and lines delivered by Snelson are exactly spot on, and some target just a slightly younger audience, giving the adults a bit of cringe. But then, if you come to this show, you probably have kids of your own so you’re used to such situations in family movies anyways.
I have to say, the young stars playing Blousey (Mia Lakha) and Tallulah (Jasmine Sakyiama) carried the whole show vocally. Their respective solos took my breath away. They both sounded like highly-trained singers with 10+ years of experience. I just wish some of the stage movement was a little more brushed up.
If the kids mostly delivered on the vocal front, then I have to admit, in terms of dance, the older cast members lead the way. “So you wanna be a boxer” is a stunning showcase of stamina, dance skills and quick, coordinated change of stage set at the same time. There’s dancing, there’s skipping, punching bag boxing – all while executing such a fun, energy-filled song. It gave me a vibe of Mulan’s “I’ll make a man out of you”. A performance I will remember for a long time! “Bad Guys”is another song that gave the performers a chance to shine and showcase their dance moves in various styles – such a pleasure to watch.
What adds to the “wow” effect from the very beginning is the creatively executed light design and stage set, created by Philip Gladwell and Jon Bausor. A dark wall with fire stairs easily opens up into a detailed, colourful bar, and round tables radiate a warm light from the inside, highlighting the fun atmosphere inside the speakeasy. There’s also an ingeniously staged scene of a car fight (literally – people fight inside and on top of it). This moment is accompanied by extremely strong strobe lights, that last a good minute – I would prefer this to be included in the trigger warnings, and couldn’t see this mentioned before I entered the auditorium.
I did have a personal problem with the show, and that’s the guns. In the film, they were shooting foam/whipped cream, but in the 2022 musical edition, the guns look realistic and there’s no foam in sight. It’s probably too convincing for me, for a show that’s intended for an audience of 8+ years olds. There were a couple of scenes where actors throw custard pies at each other, which was fine, but the gun scenes just didn’t sit well with me.
“Bugsy Malone” is an exciting little treat and I would love to see tickets for the show land in many kids’ stockings this year. There’s still the time to see it: the show plays in London until 15th January 2023.
3 December 2022 – 15 January 2023
Cast & Creatives
Shaun Sharma, Gabriel Payne and Amar Blackman (Bugsy Malone), Mia Lakha, Delilah Bennett-Cardy and Avive Williams (Blousey Brown), Albie Snelson, Isham Sankoh and Charlie Burns (Fat Sam), Taziva-Faye Katsande, Jasmine Sakyiama and Fayth Ifil (Tallulah), Aidan Oti, Jamie Northey-Dennis (Fizzy), Cherry Mitra, Kayla-Mai Alvares and Ava Hope Smith (Lena/Babyface), Rayhaan Kufuor-Gray, Kit Cranston and Desmond Cole (Dandy Dan), Georgia Pemberton, Alisha Capon, Lucy Young, D’Mia Lindsay Walker, Jessica Daugrida, Alicia Ally, Alicia Belgarde, Esme Bacalla-Hayes, Luchia Moss, Kalifa Burton, Rory Fraser, Andile Mabhena, Thomas Walton, Ru Fisher, Mohamed Bangura, Marcus Billany, Luke Mills and Will Lucas.
Alan Parker (Creator), Sean Holmes (Director), Drew McOnie (Choreographer), John Bausor (Designer), Phil Bateman (Music Supervisor, Arranger, Orchestrator), Phil Gladwell (Lighting Designer), Ben Harrison (Sound Designer)