“How long have you wanted to be a singer?
‘Since I was a kid’”
I don’t think even now I really believe that the kids in the film of Bugsy Malone aren’t actually singing – like with Father Christmas and the future for Wigan Athletic, I choose to believe. Fortunately, there’s no such doubt in Sean Holmes’ production of the show, written by Alan Parker with music and lyrics by Paul Williams, a mammoth run of which has been chosen to inaugurate the newly refurbished Lyric Hammersmith. It’s the first professional production in over a decade of this inimitable Chicago gangster classic and Holmes and children’s casting director Jessica Ronane have pulled together a group of exceptionally talented youngsters who sing live, dance, act and fire splurge guns aplenty
Having seen the show twice now, it is remarkable how different the energy was between the two sets of child performers I got to see, they’ve clearly been encouraged to establish their own mark on their roles and it’s a joy to behold. Max Gill’s Fat Sam is an absolute scene-stealing delight, absolutely nailing the comic timing and slapdash slapstick of this hapless boss whereas Sasha Gray captured more of the attention as a supremely confident Bugsy in his group; Thea Lamb’s achingly soulful voice fills her Blousey full of longing, compared to a perkier turn from Zoe Brough; and I couldn’t pick between Asanda Jezile and Samantha Allison as Tallulah, both shining as this most sardonic of songstresses.
Alongside this talented group, the production’s other secret weapon is Drew McOnie’s fabulously fresh choreography. Whilst certainly evoking the instantly recognisable dance moves of the era, he also injects a real vibrancy into the routines here – ‘Bad Guys’ thus drops the rolled-up carpet to deliver a genius silent-movie inspired dance break, the beautiful ache of ‘Tomorrow’ is echoed in barefoot contemporary, and ‘So You Wanna Be A Boxer’ uses grunting, punchbags, skipping ropes and a whole lot more besides in Jon Bausor’s inventive yet practical design to become an unalloyed highlight of the evening. Not to mention that finale. THAT FINALE! Encores will never be the same, especially as played by Phil Bateman’s exceptional band.
There are elements that don’t work quite so perfectly. Using Tallulah as a narrator is an idea the show only commits to intermittently and so it interrupts the flow rather than aiding it, ‘Down and Out’ doesn’t quite pack the right punch here and it feels like (and I might be wrong here) there’s an insistence on keeping it intact word for word (I found myself able to mouth along to the dialogue at points – no Bangles, purple really isn’t your colour) which perhaps felt a little awkward. But make no mistake, this is a giant splurge gun full of theatrical delight (as opposed to the Angel Delight in the stage guns) and brilliant choreography – anybody who is anybody should make sure they buy a ticket before spaces at Fat Sams sell out.