BUGSY MALONE at the Alexandra Palace Theatre
“Drew McOnie’s musical staging is simply stunning”
Down in the back alleyways of Prohibition era New York City, where shadows lurk beneath the stark, black fire escapes, lies Fat Sam’s Speakeasy. You wouldn’t know it’s there; except that for two hours each night its doors burst open to the lucky few (hundred) who are assembled in the Alexandra Palace Theatre’s beautifully decaying auditorium. No password is needed. Just a willingness to embrace your inner child and dive headlong into a glorious world of escapism. A world of song and dance belies the average age of the performers. While we are busy recapturing our youth, they are stealing the show, grabbing grown-up talent for themselves, and making the stage their own.
Like Alan Parker’s film on which the musical is based, the mobsters and molls the bootleggers and showgirls are played by nine-to-fifteen-year-olds. An unusual idea which, on paper, shouldn’t really work. But Parker’s film did – and so does Sean Holmes’ current revival. The precocious and wild energy is harnessed by sky-high production values, slick stagecraft and some of the best choreography to be seen in a long while. Drew McOnie’s musical staging is simply stunning.
The plot might be wafer thin, but it is filled with big characters. Fat Sam’s gang are under attack from rivals led by Dandy Dan, so Sam obviously wants to fight back. Enlisting Bugsy Malone to do his dirty work is not his wisest decision. Bugsy has fallen for the singer, Blousey Brown, and all he wants to do is whisk her off to Hollywood. Much ‘splurging’ ensues, from machine guns full of custard.
Albie Snelson, as Fat Slam, sets up the story and introduces us to the characters. In fine form, Snelson breaks the fourth wall with a keen sense of comic timing and delivery. Gabriel Payne is, for the most part, comfortable with the wisecracks and cheeky charm that define Bugsy’s character. Only occasionally do we get the sense that older words are put into younger mouths. Payne’s sense of showmanship, however, is flawless. Love interest Blousey is given commanding maturity by Mia Lakha, oozing star quality when under the spotlight in her solo numbers; ‘I’m Feeling Fine’ and ‘Ordinary Fool’. The quality of the singing is beyond its years. Similarly, Jasmine Sakyiama’s sultry songstress Tallulah lights up the stage, especially when opening Act Two with her signature tune ‘My Name Is Tallulah’. With a slightly slimmer script than Fat Sam, Desmond Cole’s rival gangster, Dandy Dan, certainly pulls as many punches. And special mention must go to Aidan Oti as Fizzy – Fat Slam’s caretaker and wannabee singer. Overlooked by his boss, but definitely not by the audience who are captivated by Oti’s cheeky charming charisma. And, boy, can he move!
The marginally older ensemble brings the whole show together. Not a step was put out of place during the demanding routines and the joy that each performer brought to their role shot straight to our hearts with exhilarating accuracy. The show never dips, even during the scene changes which are choreographed into the action, seamlessly shapeshifting the locations. Designer Jon Bausor, complemented by Philip Gladwell’s lighting, are the unseen alchemists that help transform the piece into pure gold.
It isn’t music heavy. In fact, the balance of dialogue, slapstick, humour and musical numbers is pretty good. But Paul Williams’ compositions stand out. The band, led by Musical Director Connagh Tonkinson, is tucked away at floor level but fills the cavernous auditorium. Each number sounds like a hit. By the time we reach the finale the audience are quite rightly on their feet. Feet that are young and old and all ages in between. This show, that has everything, is for everyone.
Reviewed on 7th December 2022
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Pamela Raith
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