Culture Writer Nicole Haynes reviews the Belgrade Theatre’s production of the 1976 smash-hit film, Bugsy Malone, praising the impressive performances of the younger cast members
In 1976 Alan Parker’s imagined story of gangsters and showgirls became the smash hit film, Bugsy Malone. Parker paired up with renowned singer-songwriter Paul Williams to create a musical about two rival gangs in New York city. The catch being, of course, that these rival gangs were made up of children. In the original film, the average age of the cast was merely twelve years old. However, this unique casting choice, assisted by some custard-pie splurge guns, became culturally iconic; Bugsy is still as well loved now as it was in the 1970s.
Last night I had the pleasure of watching Lyric Hammersmith’s Theatre production of Bugsy Malone on their UK tour, at the Belgrade Theatre. Despite being nearly 50 years after the release of the original film, this show holds up as a joyous crowd pleaser. The razzle-dazzle of 1920s New York, combined with witty jokes and custard pies, provides outrageous fun for the cast and audience alike. The show also spotlighted fresh talent, casting the UK’s youngest performers as the leads. For a number of cast members, including Amar Blackman (Bugsy) and Charlie Burns (Fat Sam), this tour marks their professional theatre debut. Their performances were full of enthusiasm and joy- something that made this particular production such a lovely watch. It was refreshing to see such a diverse cast of young professionals and made me hopeful for the future of theatre and colour-blind casting.
The show’s musical numbers were staged innovatively. Commendation goes out to the slick adult ensemble who supported the leads excellently. Stand-out numbers in Act 1 include ‘Bad Guys’ and ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’. In both numbers the ensemble performed gloriously. Drew McOnie is a skilled choreographer who provided a visually exciting experience. Particularly in ‘Bad Guys’, physical comedy was incorporated into the movement providing an engaging form of physical story-telling. It was interesting to see the younger cast members taking inspiration from and being supported by their older counterparts. The rapport between Fat Sam and Knuckles, played by Charlie Burns and understudy Ru Fisher, was a perfect example of this. Similarly, Ava Hope Smith, playing Babyface, excelled in ‘Show Business’, accompanied by two ensemble members.
Act 2 opened with my favourite number from the show: ‘My Name is Tallulah’. Played by the incredible Taziva Faye-Katsande, this number portrayed Tallulah in all her glitz and glamour. The costuming here was extravagant, and historically reminiscent of the 1920s “flapper” archetype. Additionally, the drop-down mirror frames created an interesting visual, echoing the showgirl aesthetic. However, the real standout here was Faye-Katsande herself, a true star in the making. Her vocals were jazzy and effortlessly cool; the young performer is a budding triple threat and delivered a polished performance.
The second act also introduced the character Leroy, played by Mohamed Bangura. I was extremely impressed by Bangura’s performance, even more once I learnt that this is his first UK tour and professional theatrical acting debut. He was clearly at home onstage and provided excellent comedic moments. His timing and reactions were ridiculously funny, especially in the superb number ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’. By the end of the show, he had the audience clapping and practically eating out of his palm as he sang the reprise of ‘Bad Guys’.
All in all, the show was highly enjoyable. During the finale, everyone in the audience stood on their feet singing along with the cast. It was exciting to see the next generation of talent take centre stage in this classic musical, especially from such a diverse group of performers. These accomplished young actors showed exactly why representation in the theatre matters and retold the whimsical tale triumphantly.
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