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REVIEW - Enter the world of Bugsy Malone - it's everything that we wanted it to be!


We visited the Manchester Opera House on Tuesday to watch Bugsy Malone.
Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about this wonderful family musical...

The splurge guns are in town, fully loaded and with a delicious back up of a cream pie for your face! What child of the 80’s didn’t dream of settling an argument with a little splurging? Heck, what adult doesn’t? Fast forward to 2022 and a whole new generation are getting ready to learn the joys of the best kind of innocent and messy fun ever invented! Add to that some crackin’ top tunes that even your musical theatre hater will know, weave in some youthful and naïve gangsters, and sprinkle a rose-tinted tale of a bygone era where prohibition ruled, and rules were made to be broken! Then, my friend, you have
Bugsy Malone!


The speakeasy bar reigns supreme in New York during prohibition and is the perfect cover for anyone who may have a few side-lines in racketeering. So rival bar owners Fat Sam and Dandy Dan must make it clear to each other and everyone else, which one of them runs this town, and which bar will succeed. Each has its loyal customers, showgirls, and workers, and woe betide anyone who dares to cross over – they’ll face the splurging of a lifetime! These bars house gangsters, and gangsters ain’t afraid of getting their hands dirty after all. As we meet all the brilliant characters, a whole new world unfolds, but be careful who you talk to else you may just find yourself being pulled further and further into a dark and dangerous underworld. Bugsy Malone is just a driver after all, but with his Italian connections, charm, and aspirations to be a boxing promoter, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay out of trouble. As he falls for hopeful Hollywood actress Blousey during a visit to the bar, he does everything he can to ensure Fat Sam hires her, but as he becomes distracted by surprise attacks, and unwanted attention from Fat Sam’s girlfriend Tallulah, it’s fair to say that his path to true love certainly does not run smoothly. As Dandy Dans attacks increase, Bugsy helps Fat Sam to end this turf war once and for all. As a riotous cast of characters emerge, New York reveals the best and the worst of its mobsters, down and outs, showgirls, and boxers. But be in no doubt, for even though these gangsters are mini, they’re marvellously musical and mighty.


You can’t help but be drawn into the world of Bugsy Malone because Jon Bauser’s design ignites every spark, flame, and flurry of your imagination until you surrender and accept that you are now in downtown New York. Fat Sam’s speakeasy is a pulsing, living, breathing club, made even more believable by its realistic dingy outward surroundings of fire escapes, and alleyways. Inside, however, colour, vibrance, sequins and a rainbow glow bar welcome you with wilful abandonment of the rules. Props appear so flamboyantly yet with an equal subtlety, so intrinsically magical yet natural, that you feel alive with adrenalin. The clever use of contrast makes everything of importance pop right off the stage, with colourful scenery set against dark backdrops. It becomes a guessing game as to where the next piece of scenery or prop may appear from, because it is interwoven so seamlessly into the heart of the play and even the choreography itself, that it can quite literally appear from anywhere, including tables appearing from the sky! Add in dazzling costumes that shimmer yet also provide comedy as kids are dressed in pinstriped gangster suits, and you begin to realise that Bauser has cemented the design into the very heart of this show.


Bugsy Malone is famous for having a full cast of young actors playing grown-ups. That’s the whole point of the story – taking a very adult world and poking fun at it through the eyes of youth. We all remember certain performances from the film, and it’s a little like marmite – you either loved the concept or hated it. The idea of kids dressed up as adults and pretending to be in an adult world freaks the bejesus out of some people, but I think that this production has found a very simple and genius fix to this potential problem – cast both children and adults! The children are there to keep the story idea firmly in its routes by filling the main roles, but for the more adult moments, such as sexy showgirl dancing – adults take over. As a certain meercat would say, “It’s simples!” That is not to say that choreographer Drew McOnie has slunk away from difficulty – on the contrary! These are challenging routines that the children more than meet, just the appropriateness has been handled with care. There are those who would also argue that children cannot carry a production of this size. These people need to be splurged! These children are professionals, end of. The infamous music by Paul Williams is brought to life by a stella cast of all ages and they will charm you, warm your wintery heart, and give you the feel good factor.


Bugsy is brought to life in a charming and persuasive manner by Gabriel Payne. He is funny, loveable and cheeky, and leads a fantastic dance routine with ‘Down & Outs’. Payne is not only incredibly talented and knows how to play with his voice for comic effect, but he just has the ‘it’ factor too. Albie Snelson steals the show as Fat Sam. It is an absolutely stella performance by any standard, let alone from a young actor. Everything he does is spot on, with impeccable comedic timing, the ability to ad-lib hilariously and hold an entire theatre audience in the palm of his hand. Snelson is a star! Blousy is played by Delilah Bennett-Cardy and has a stunning voice. Her solo ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ makes it hard to believe that she is still a youngster for it is not only beautifully sung, but so emotive that you may find you leak a tear or two. Fayth Ifil opens the show as Tallulah and immediately lets the audience know that these kids aren’t messing around and that we need to take them seriously as she is commanding, elegant and full of sass. Dandy Dan is brought to us courtesy of Desmond Cole and he is brilliant at portraying the laid back, dangerous mobster. He provides Dan with a subtle air of arrogance that allows all to know just who is in charge of this town. Aidan Oti and Cherry Mitra play Fizzy and Lena / Babyface and whilst they both bring the cute factor by being the smallest members of the cast, they equally prove they are both more than capable of holding the stage on their own and create gorgeously memorable moments. Every member of this young cast has the most outstanding and convincing New York accents, and not once is a single word or sound dropped. It’s remarkable.


Director Sean Holmes has done a wonderful job of blending a cast of two halves, ensuring a cohesive team and performance throughout. The comedy asides and timing are just brilliant and for children to have mastered this skill is credit to his leadership. Before watching this production, I kept hearing on the musical grapevine that an impressive car chase scene takes place. This scene is not the typical smash ‘em up style piece I was envisaging though, but a rather ingenious method of storytelling that will leave you buzzing as it draws a close to the first half. Strobe lighting, stop motion, choreography, humour, mime, and physicality fuel the chase, guaranteeing you cannot wait for the second half to begin. Another wow moment is ‘So you wanna be a boxer?’. All I will say is that it’s an absolute “What the?!? How are they keeping that going?!” piece. Ensemble pieces are always showstoppers if done well but saying this was ’done well’ is like saying Lowry liked to scribble a bit! I’ll be honest, I’m exhausted just remembering the high impact energy of this number and feel I need a sit down and a bar of chocolate just to continue writing! Punchbags, sparring in canon, acrobatic flips, skipping routines, formations spiralling around the whole stage, and creative lighting casting means there is most definitely power in numbers. Mohamed Bangura leads the routine as Leroy and is not only funny, but entirely convincing as a light footed, quick thinking boxer who wants to be anything but a boxer!


‘Bad Guys’ is literally everything I love about musical theatre and the audience couldn’t wait to join in clapping. The build up of the canon song is tingling with anticipation and comedy brilliance until you have a full blown showstopping number on your hands. Lights, dance, detailed facial expressions, pizazz, and sheer xdcjksdhfuvhnsvcchdcao – because I just can’t find the words to relay the joy, so I made one up! There are wonderful moments throughout the whole production, and one that kept me on my toes and jumping like a baby was every time knuckles cracked his knuckles! Eeek! That sound will haunt me, but it did make me laugh, and made a few people around me laugh too as I freaked out. It’s my nails down a blackboard sound unfortunately for me, but brilliant for comedy.


Bugsy Malone has been done before and it will be done again, but right here, right now, this cast and production fills the theatre with fun, energy, and a cool vibe that is fitting for all ages. I am taking 40 of my drama students to watch the show tomorrow night and I was a little ‘eehhh’ about watching it two nights on the run, but I can honestly say that I am now raring to go and do it all again. The finale alone will ensure that your toes are a tapping, your head is a bopping, and your hands are a clapping, and give you an uncontrollable urge to be a part of the fun on stage. It will make you feel ten years younger just by being there and leave any young audience members feeling they can conquer the world. So, grab your spats, your pinstriped suits, your trilbys and feather boas and mosey on down to The Opera House. Expect a revival of water pistols or soak blasters this week though but stay out of range for you may just find they aren’t filled with water! To splurge or not to splurge – that is the question!





Photo credits - Pamela Raith Photography

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