THEATRE REVIEW: Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

playing until 1 August

Bugsy Malone titleThe Lyric Hammersmith has reopened its doors after a £16.5 million redevelopment, which includes expansion with the new Reuben Foundation Wing and modernisation of the current building. The focus is very much on youth, with new media technology aimed at emerging talent, and Bugsy Malone feels like the perfect combination of classic musical and young energy to reopen the theatre.

It’s worth noting that Alan Parker, director of the original film, doesn’t often give rights for the show to be staged, not being a fan of the adaptation. It’s a promising sign that Parker thought the team at the Lyric would do the production justice – and by and large it’s a heart-warming, dazzling night that showcases impressive young talent.

As in the film, the defining characteristic of the show is that all the main roles are played by children, with a wider ensemble of adults. The principles all impress: Michael Matias is energetic and engaging in the title role of Bugsy; James Okulaja brings hilarity to the larger-than-life role of Fat Sam; Eleanor Worthington-Cox (already an Olivier Award winner for playing Matilda) shows off a beautiful voice as the sweet Blousey Brown; and Sophie Decaro shows poise beyond her years as the glamorous Tallulah. There is also stand-out support from the frankly adorable Leah Levman and William Wright-Neblett.

The show plays on all the gangster movie clichés, sending up the genre with so much tongue-in-cheek humour, and so many reminders that it’s make-believe, that the plot becomes almost immaterial. The humour is gentle and slapstick but the enthusiasm of the young cast is infectious and, while some lines are lost a little in delivery, they do a solid job of keeping up the energy throughout. The adult ensemble add some glitz and glamour, although there is some variety in the quality of the dance numbers: ‘So You Wanna Be A Boxer’ and ‘Bad Guys’ bring the house down and truly show off Drew McOnie’s wonderful choreography, while in ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’ I felt there needed to be much more tightness in the routine.

bugsy malone

The finale suddenly ramps up the energy from good to great in a barnstorming finish that mashes up elements of the score into a sizzling megamix, which also gives some of the younger principles a chance to show off their dance moves – which Michael Matias in particular does with aplomb.

There may be a few niggles in this production, but all in all it has heart and soul and plenty of promise for the future in the talent seen on stage. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but the audience loved it and it’s certainly proving a popular and heart-warming way to relaunch this theatre.

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