thu 18/07/2024

Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith | reviews, news & interviews

Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

Generation-bridging joy with the return of the mobster musical pastiche

It's a knockout: the 'Bugsy Malone' ensembleTristram Kenton

For those in sore need of a theatrical pick-me-up, jazz square your way over to Bugsy Malone. Last year’s smash-hit opener of the redeveloped Lyric has been given a well-deserved encore, with Sean Holmes’s production once again nailing the beguiling blend of Alan Parker’s 1976 film: children performing musical mobster pastiche, smartly knowing in their deconstruction of adult absurdities, but sidestepping cloying precocity.

There’s a ramshackle feel to this Bugsy – some garbled dialogue, accents meandering between broad New Yoik and distinct south London – that actually adds to its charm. No Baby Junes here, other than a perfectly ghastly diminutive starlet. Parker’s superb parodic book, tighter and snappier than most West End juggernauts, and Paul Williams’s memorable songs form a robust framework, within which there’s an electrifying unpredictability created by the loose, playful style of Holmes’s idiosyncratic young cast.

Bugsy Malone, Lyric HammersmithTwenty-two rotating kids take the lead roles in this Prohibition-era tale of warring gangsters and sequinned showgirls, with a slightly older ensemble beefing up the big numbers. The height disparity creates some wonderful sight gags, such as pint-size crime lord Dandy Dan dressing down a bumbling employee three times his size. It’s delivered with a wink, yet Holmes doesn’t discount the underlying savagery of Parker’s piece. The guns just splurge cream, and the dead jump up with a reassuring “Oh, man!”, but they still leave our story.

At the performance I saw, Alesandro Bonelli (pictured above) played Dandy Dan as a marvellously chilling boy despot – think Game of Thrones’s Joffrey with better impulse control. As charming chancer Bugsy, Adryan Dorset-Pitt dropped a few lines, but his naturalness is winning and he develops a lovely coy chemistry with Tabitha Knowles’s wannabe star Blousey – the latter an open-hearted firecracker who devastates with her big, wistful torch song.

Max Gill revisits his ace comic turn as the increasingly exasperated kingpin Fat Sam, even berating a clothes rack during a meta scene change gag, while Rhianna Dorris's femme fatale Tallulah combines Beyoncé diva confidence, cool delivery and velvety vocals with an impressive specificity in her movement. Elliot Aubrey, an R&B star in the making, beautifully communicates an artist's yearning for self-expression, Marcus Sharif is a delight as giggling, gentle giant Leroy, and Damien Buhagiar convincingly jaded as veteran coach Cagey Joe.

But the standout element is Drew McOnie’s propulsive choreography – nodding to musical theatre history, but very much its own thing. There’s speakeasy slickness (pictured below), emotive contemporary, witty vaudevillian inventiveness, empowering recruitment of the “down and outs”, and a bravura boxing sequence: earthy, strong and narratively engaged, skipping nimbly between set-pieces as it builds to a storming climax.

Bugsy Malone, Lyric HammersmithDesigner Jon Bausor makes a virtue of the Lyric’s industrial foundations, whisks tables out of the air, and provides period-aping costumes (Dan’s mini camel-hair coat is a marvel) and a pedal car for a genuinely exciting chase sequence. Credit, too, to James Farncombe’s lighting, which crisply differentiates between the razzle dazzle of the theatre and the moody noir of the back alleys. 

Phil Bateman’s lively band occasionally overwhelms the singers, but the odd lost detail is forgivable in this giddy, live-action cartoon with a surprisingly moving pay-off. In the current climate, the observation that “we’re weaker divided” and exhortation to “give a little love and it all comes back to you”, delivered by this talented collective of hopeful, diverse youngsters, rings out anew. A generation-bridging joy.


This giddy, live-action cartoon has a surprisingly moving pay-off


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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