Alan Parker’s 1976 film, renowned for its child cast, makes for a light-hearted and surprisingly funny production. Sara Murphy was at the Wales Millennium Centre to see the first ever national tour of Bugsy Malone.
The premise of Bugsy Malone was always bizarre, if not ingenious. The musical is a take on the gangster movies of old, complete with children playing the parts of hoodlums and showgirls. Somehow it works and even more so, is an enjoyable and feel-good 2-hour romp; there are laughs aplenty and catchy, ear-worming songs. Opener ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’ is enthusiastic and, make no mistake, the American twang is over-emphasised with every drawn-out note.
Guns are substituted for the splurge variety and whipped cream pies to make the very much not suitable for children narrative, child-friendly. The New York prohibition-era setting is brought to life with an authentic 1929 speakeasy and costumes that are representative and glamorous. Gangster suits and hats, as well as glitzy dresses and feathered headbands make up the iconic aesthetic.
The set design is simple but works perfectly. The transitions were seamless and certain props such as the old black Ford car, fashioned out of a cart, were a pleasant surprise. The use of flashing lights was clever in giving the impression of movement. There were a few opening night faux pas with the lights – the sign wasn’t always lit up and there were several incidents where characters were talking from the dark as opposed to within spotlights.
Tallulah’s introduction leaves a lasting impression due to Jasmine Sakyiama’s astounding stage presence. Her speech is crisp and clear, accent convincing and vocals beautifully controlled with a gorgeous tone. ‘Bugsy Malone’ is sung with an air of confidence that says: “I’m the star of the show.” Her second act opener ‘My Name is Tallulah’ is not quite as impressive next to this opening performance; the song is not a great vehicle for vocal prowess and yet Sakyiama seems to struggle a little with the range.
Mia Lakha played the part of Blousy Brown and her renditions of ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ and ‘Ordinary Fool’ were effortless, particularly the latter which included a stunning goosebump-inducing riff at the end. Her stage presence may not be as powerful as Sakyiama’s, but her vocals were certainly one of the best in the show. With a purity and subtle power to her voice, it is surely a given that she will continue to take on other big roles.
From the off, the orchestration is excellent with the familiar opener being played between each scene change. The live band, under Connagh Tonkinson’s musical direction, is driven by loud brass and thumping bass to joyous effect.
Albie Snelson did a fantastic job in his role as Fat Sam, even more so considering this tour is his professional stage debut. He showed great commitment to the part and really manifested an old gangster, complete with a thick and gravelly New York accent. His performance was great, particularly when he threw a tantrum regarding a scene change which made for very funny viewing.
Fat Sam’s gang of compliant misfits provided a laugh, particularly during ‘Bad Guys’ which was nicely choregraphed. The standout performer however was Knuckles (Thomas Walton). His brand of physical comedy and frantic movements were brilliant, conveying a Charlie Chaplin persona. His accent was spot on and unwavering throughout. The talent really did shine through.
There were some performances that didn’t shine quite as brightly. Dandy Dan’s (Desmond Cole) accent wasn’t always on point and Bugsy Malone himself (Gabriel Payne) was at times a little difficult to understand. His dedication to the role considering his young age was admirable and his commanding performance of ‘Down and Out’ was excellent. In fact, the whole number was great with its jammy groove, building crescendos and nice harmonies.
Aidan Oti’s Fizzy is a sweet character, and granted he is very young, although his song ‘Tomorrow’ lacked the punch it might have offered with a little extra power behind it. Nonetheless, consideration must be given to the fact the principal cast was made up of children who all emitted an air of confidence and swag despite any weakness in their performances.
The show’s best number had to be ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’, for the choreography alone. The dancing was slick, the staging clever and the routine (complete with skipping ropes) was an energetic masterpiece. Credit must be given to choreographer Drew McOnie for the whole show which was tight and original.
The absolute carnage that ensues during the ending is swiftly followed by a raucous danceathon finale. It felt as if this was a wonderful reflection of the age of the cast, having fun and letting loose on stage. The fun mash-up of contemporary hip hop moves mixed with Charleston dancing, as ‘You Give a Little Love’ is belted out, was surprising and uplifting.
Bugsy Malone despite its short run time packed in a lot of action, comedy and jovial, feel-good songs. To summarise, the kids did alright…
Bugsy Malone plays at the Wales Millennium Centre until 21st January. Tickets are available here.