Alan Parker, Paul Williams
Theatre Royal Bath Productions, Birmingham Rep, Kenny Wax
February 6-11, 2023; 2 hrs (7pm start)
MalomneTaziva-Faye Katsande as Tallulah (centre) with Luchia Moss, Alicia Belgarde Alisha Capon and Georgia Pemberton in Bugsy Malone at the Liverpool Empire
Anybody who is anybody will soon walk through that door... of the Liverpool Empire, transformed as it is this week into Fat Sam’s Grand Slam Speakeasy, where the soda pop flows freely despite the New York prohibition era efforts to stop it.
The flappers dance, the sequins sparkle and the 1920s roar, but Sam and his merry band of hopeless hoodlums are preoccupied with obtaining the latest hardware – the splurge gun – to outwit their rivals and keep hold of the remnants of Sam’s jazz-age empire.
This show is very much based on the 1970s film by Sir Alan Parker, which was a spoof of the gangster movies of his childhood, reimagined as a musical with a cast of children. It was a crazy idea, but it stood the test of time, and Williams’ songs set the tone playfully for a game of gangsters and molls, which launched the careers of Scott Baio as protagonist Bugsy and Jodie Foster as Sam’s moll Tallulah.
The pedal cars and the custard cream pies standing in for deadly weapons are transported on to the stage in this beautiful adaptation, with a book by the late Parker, retaining Williams’ songs.
The hugely talented children, largely in the main roles, are interspersed with a solid framework of young adults, as is so often the case in shows like this. The combination keeps the story flowing and retains the cute factor and the irony of kids as gangsters with the associated accoutrements. Moments reminiscent of a school play are few and far between.
Not to be downplayed is the decision to start at 7pm. This, in combination with a tight two-hour run time means that children (as young as 8, according to the guidelines) can still be in bed in time to get up for school. While it’s not explicitly a show for children, the awe of kids watching kids play to a professional standard is hard to put into words. Inspirational indeed.
The young cast rotates but we saw Shaun Sharma as Bugsy, Delilah Bennett-Cardy as love interest Blousey, Isham Sankoh as Sam, and Kit Cranston as rival gang boss Dandy Dan. Grown-up, Alicia Belgarde covered Tallulah, which led to a few awkward (non-romantic) moments playing against a 13 year old.
Breaking voices were skilfully tackled with melodic alterations, and big hugs and playful gestures stood in for romance. Little Elliot Arthur Mugume stole the show as Fizzy, and his mournful number Tomorrow - where he mops the floor dreaming of his big audition, telling us he "won’t take no for an answer, I was born to be a dancer" while the big girls twirl balletically behind him in sympathy. He didn’t need them, and I’d content that Mugume was certainly born to be a singer.
Another stand-out was Kayla-Mai Alvares, taking the moment that originally belonged to baby Bonnie Langford as Lena the diva, doubling as Babyface (little Dexter Fletcher in the movie) the down-and-out/erstwhile gangster. And for the adult cast, Knuckles (uncredited in the programme) created moments of pure physical comedy and clowning that really served to enhance the stage version of the story.
Bugsy Malone offers layers of nostalgia: the footlights, the flappers, and some great orchestration recreates the speakeasy and theatre of the late 1920s, while the characters give us a gangster-movie spoof of the 1930s; and of course the dialogue and songs send us back to the classic 70s family movie that so many of us remember.
At the same we’re also privileged to witness the future of theatre (and film) in the performances of some incredible kids.
More info and tickets here