Review by Rosie Holmes
For their festive offering this year, Alexandra Palace Theatre are bringing Bugsy Malone The Musical to London as part of their UK tour. You would think a wonderfully charismatic show such as this would be bound to put a smile on your face with its slapstick comedy and impressive performances from its young actors, but is it a grand slam of a show?
Based on Alan Parker’s 1976 film of the same name, Bugsy Malone is currently touring the UK, stopping at the beautiful Alexandra Palace for a six-week run. Telling the story of the battle for power between two gang bosses; Dandy Dan and Fat Sam, and Bugsy - a penniless boxing manager who gets caught in the middle. Splurge guns and cream pies are the weapons in use here and the gangsters and show girls are children.
Alexandra Palace’s beautifully distressed Victorian theatre makes a gorgeous backdrop to the dark and solemn New York alleyway that greets the audience. This in turn makes way for the delightfully colourful set of Fat Sam’s speakeasy. The set is one of the strongest elements in this show boasting effortless transitions which allow for fast paced storytelling and a visually pleasing spectacle.
Visuals aside, there is a fear that a cast made up of children could produce a show that verges on school play territory, and there were points that it appeared this production could go this way. However, the clever use of children as the principal characters and a more experienced adult ensemble means that actually this is a dazzlingly professional production. The ensemble shine in the big dance numbers, slickly choreographed by Drew McOnie - the most impressive of these being ‘So you wanna be a boxer’ which was faultlessly performed.
You may be mistaken for thinking this was the Fat Sam show, particularly in the first half. Albie Snelson shines in the role of Fat Sam, at times threatening to overshadow the rest of the cast. His caricature of a mob boss is a joy to watch and can’t help but make you smile. There really is something wonderful about watching a child so comfortable on stage and unafraid to be unapologetically silly, which really is what this show is all about. One of Snelson’s finest moments comes in a fourth-wall breaking scene as he interacts with the audience, lamenting the lack of stage hands as he comically races around moving props. His chemistry with one of the ‘grown-up’ performers- Marcus Billany is also worth mentioning as they are a double act of delight with effortless chemistry between the pair. In fact Billany really deserves some praise as he delivers a masterclass in slapstick comedy and physicality in his short time on stage that really leaves you wanting more.
Whilst Fat Sam offers a lot of chuckles, the two female lead roles deliver gorgeous vocals. Mia Lakha and Jasmine Sakiuama as Blousey Brown and Tallulah respectively, demonstrate a control over their voices that are remarkably mature for their years, Whilst, in the 1976 film the child cast’s vocal performances were dubbed, there is certainly no need for that in this production, with the vocals of the talented young cast adding to the charisma and charm of the show.
The title role of Bugsy Malone was played at this performance by Gabriel Payne (there are three rotating groups of children for this show known as Roxy, Knuckles Doodles). Watching the first half, there was a fear he could perhaps fade into the background, but he truly comes into his own in the second half proving what a triple threat he really is. Payne’s New York accent is well delivered and he is able to lead the penultimate musical number ‘Down and Out’ with impressive technical ability and an infectious smile on his face creating a joy that palpably spread throughout the audience. It’s a shame that this number as well as ‘You Give A Little Love’ come so close to the end of the show. Its with these numbers that not only the ensemble, but most of the child actors are really able to show all of their abilities which creates an an infectious energy of fun which then ends too soon with the curtain drop close after.
There have been productions of the show in previous years that have made me uncomfortable at the over-sexualised nature of some of the characters, particularly Talullah. This is not a worry that came to fruition in this production. However, there is something to be questioned about the lack of agency that the female characters possess in this show. Tallulah is repeatedly told to make herself pretty and Blousey’s fortunes seem reliant only on Bugsy’s ability to make money. It feels as though there could be some updates to the story in order to be more successful with a contemporary audience.
While the plot itself may be paper thin, the show’s strengths lie within its dazzling dance numbers, catchy songs and charismatic performers. Without being glib, I think for the time being, this show should be taken for what it is. A family friendly, fun and silly musical. I think there is definitely place for this show in the London theatre scene. Audience goers should not expect a complex plot with a thought-provoking storyline but a fun and energetic show, that I believe for many children will be an awe-inspiring first theatre trip. It was only by looking around me and seeing the young boy next to me on the edge of his seat during a car chase scene and dancing and grinning throughout the final bows that makes you realise how magical a show like this can be. If a show’s success could be based solely on the smiles throughout the audience as they left the theatre, this show should be deemed an absolute success.
This show may not necessarily be one of nuance and complexity but it is one of joy and unapologetic silliness - this festive season, I think that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Bugsy Malone the Musical is a fun and at times impressive show that the whole family will enjoy.
Bugsy Malone The Musical Plays at Alexandra Palace Theatre until Sunday 15th January 2023. Tickets available here- Bugsy Malone The Musical > Alexandra Palace
Photos by Pamela Raith