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Review: BUGSY MALONE, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Review: BUGSY MALONE, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

This gangster comedy musical showcases an array of young talent

Review: BUGSY MALONE, Birmingham Repertory Theatre It's Prohibition-era New York, but not as you know it. The speakeasies and gang tensions are present and correct, but the mobsters and showgirls look like children, and the machine guns fire cream instead of bullets. This was the premise behind Alan Parker's 1976 hit movie Bugsy Malone, and that world is faithfully recreated in Sean Holmes' light-hearted stage production.

Originally staged in 2015 at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, the revival is now set to tour the UK, bringing the escapades of rival gang leaders Fat Sam and Dandy Dan to new audiences.

As the show opens, we are transported first to the grimy fire escapes of the New York city streets, and then to the glamorous world of Fat Sam's Grand Slam, where sparkling dancers perform dazzling routines, a multi-coloured bar glistens and cocktail tables descend from the rafters. Jon Bausor's set pieces are simple but effective, and his costume design is also a delight, with an abundance of flapper-style sequins for the showgirls and oversized suits for the diminutive gang bosses.

Bugsy Malone's plot is fairly slight: Fat Sam, frustrated by his gang's lack of fire power, attempts to procure the brand-new "splurge guns" to replace his old-fashioned custard pies. In need of a driver, Sam enlists down-on-his-luck boxing promoter Bugsy, who just wants to earn some money to impress the new girl in town, aspiring singer Blousey Brown.

The slender plot should leave plenty of breathing room for character development and for Paul Williams' iconic songs, but the pace feels a little uneven, with dialogue scenes sometimes coming across as rushed. The production also puts more emphasis than the film on the comedic aspects of the characters and plot, and some of the original sense of peril is lost along the way. It never really feels like any of the characters are in danger, and the lack of high stakes contributes to the inconsistent energy.

The show is at its best during the musical numbers, with Drew McOnie's choreography shining in the big ensemble routines, particularly the energetic "So You Wanna Be A Boxer", which mixes a healthy helping of sports moves into the dance. The solo renditions of the slower songs are equally impressive.

Although the cast features adults in supporting roles, it is led by a rotating group of nine to 15 year-olds, and there are surely some future stars among them. On press night, Albie Snelson showed off great comic timing as Fat Sam, and Gabriel Payne's Bugsy was a dynamo of energy and charisma, particularly in "Down and Out", where he effortlessly commanded a stage full of older ensemble members. Aidan Oti gave a heartfelt performance of "Tomorrow", the bluesy ballad of a janitor who yearns to be a dancer, and Mia Lakha stole the audience's hearts as the sweet but defensive Blousey. Her soaring vocals were clear as a bell and she turned the wistful 11 o'clock number "Ordinary Fool" into something quite extraordinary.

This might not be the most polished production, but the cast's enjoyment and sense of fun is infectious. Families will love it, and it's definitely worth reserving yourself a table at Fat Sam's to see such a display of up-and-coming theatre talent.

Bugsy Malone at Birmingham Rep until 14 August, then touring

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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