Bugsy Malone at the Lyric HammersmithCultureTheatre
Staging anything with kids is a huge risk for the simple reason that kids, en masse, can be insufferable. That fact makes the Lyric Hammersmith’s revival of Bugsy Malone such a triumph of prepubescent casting, using the age of its faultless actors to add another winking layer to its cartoon clout.
All the classic beats are there from Alan Parker and Paul Williams’ 1976 film: Fat Sam and Dandy Dan duke it out for New York street supremacy, while Bugsy Malone tries to woo Blousey and Tallulah smoulders on the sidelines. Yet the plot is almost incidental in Sean Holmes’ superlative production, the loose narrative becoming the framework for a series of spectacular set pieces. It’s hard not to tingle with anticipation as “Fat Sam’s” flickers into life above the stage, the bar appears from the back wall and the dancers strut out to the tune of the speakeasy’s Grand Slam. That feeling never lets up: from the mournful shuffle of Tomorrow to the boasting bluster of Bad Guys there isn’t a duff song in the pack.
The highlight (and the understandable pick for the musical’s Olivier performance) is So You Want to Be a Boxer?. The Looney Tunes energy of the principal performances, especially Marcus Sharif as the lumbering Leeroy, is matched by a versatile ensemble that boxes, skips and flips its way through the song’s a capella opening before giving the audience ringside seats better than any box in Vegas.
Punching bags descend from the ceiling, clothes are torn off to reveal impromptu gym-gear, boxers fall flat on their backs: the song is a testament to a team dedicated to a consistently inventive theatrical experience, with an attention to detail representative of the production as a whole.
Much of the musical’s delight lies in the send-up of a mob’s worth of gangster movie archetypes and tropes. From Dandy Dan watching old black and white films, to the Al Capone-esque outfits of Fat Sam, to the absurd list of mafia nicknames, all the elements of genre pastiche are there. Yet if that was all this production had to offer one suspects the audience eruption at the end of the show wouldn’t have been quite so raucous. Holmes and his team of charming children never waste an opportunity for an extra gag, from background jokes to a broken fourth wall, with every performance oozing with animated wit. It’s a production informed by the lightening quick pace of the likes of 30 Rock and Arrested Development, taking the 40-year-old source material and updating it for the modern comedic sensibility.
Bugsy Malone is on at the Lyric Hammersmith from 11th June to 4th September 2016. Book your tickets here.