If I were 13 years old, I'd do anything to be in the National Youth Music Theatre s new production of Bugsy Malone. The young cast have such an obvious good time that it s contagious.
Originally made for the cinema, Alan Parker's musical is probably remembered more for its custard cream splurge gun shoot-outs than its original cast of kids (with the possible exception of Jodie Foster who subsequently shot to fame). The new West End show features an entire cast of under-16s, singing, dancing and tapping their way through gangster land, aided only by subtly disguised microphones rather than adult voice-overs.
Set during America's prohibition era in the 1920s, Bugsy Malone is a gangster spoof. Most of action takes place in Fat Sam's bar, where Dandy Dan and his gang of baddies create havoc with their deadly splurge guns to the backdrop of crooning showgirls. Fat Sam's rival gang, a bunch of incompetent but endearing gangsters, attempt to come to the rescue. It's a war of splurge guns and, as you can guess, it all goes horribly wrong. The play's opening is narrated and held together by the smooth, clean, heartbreaker Bugsy, slickly brought to life by 13-year-old, Michael Sturges.
It helps that Paul William's original songs for the film adapt well to a fast-moving stage show. Still, enormous credit must be given to the talented young performers. It's sometimes disconcerting watching the formidable characters of Fat Sam's girlfriend Tallulah (Sheridan Smith) and Bugsy's love-interest Blousey Brown (Elizabeth Avis) vamp it up; or a cast of pubescent boys acting boxing-tough; or even being convinced that Bugsy is the two-timing, good-for-nothing coward that Blousey laments, when Sturges has the face of an angel. But the acting, dancing and slap-stick humour is carried off brilliantly. Fat Sam and his sidekick Knuckles make a good team, as do Bugsy and Blousey. The best song and dance routines are Fizzy (Sean Parkins) the floor-cleaner's version of 'Tomorrow' and the feather-boaed show-stopping screecher, Lena Marelli (Eveline Verdigaal). The 1920's costumes are great too and the sets simple and clever, particularly in the car chase scene.
Bugsy Malone runs over Christmas and New Year until January 10th. It's a lot more fun for an outing with the kids than having to sit through another rendition of A Christmas Carol. And the on-stage splurging will bring back those movie memories for the oldies. Oh, to be 13 years old again.
(Note: Casts vary on the night.)
Melissa Davis, November 1997