Rival gangs, prohibition era New York and a whole lot of cream pies? This can only mean one thing, Bugsy Malone has arrived in Canterbury! The first professional theatrical tour of Alan Parker’s 1970s movie musical has been visiting many regional venues across the UK from 2022 to early 2023. The roaring twenties comedy sees young people take on the lead grown-up roles and they are supported by a talented ensemble of adults. I had the opportunity to review Bugsy Malone this week at the Marlowe Theatre’s press night, but for the first time since South Pacific, I went into the musical with no idea what to expect. Some of the songs are played on Elaine Paige’s Radio 2 show so the music was at least familiar, but the characters and comedy were otherwise all completely new to me.
What impressed me most about Bugsy Malone was how the source material takes an intense subject matter and turns it completely on its head, poking fun at mob culture throughout history. Primarily a comedy, there were lots of humorous moments from the ‘splurge’ guns to the rewarding of gang members with lollipops. With children playing the mob bosses, the material is instantly funny, but the ‘Knuckles’ young cast delivered the dialogue with brilliant comedic timing. Rival gang bosses Fat Sam (Charlie Burns) and Dandy Dan (Rayhaan Kufuor-Gray) were at loggerheads for the entire production and their rivalry was a source of great laughter.
In addition to the gang bosses, Bugsy (Amar Blackman), Blousey (Avive Williams) and Tallulah (Taziva-Faye Katsande) were on stage for a large part of the show. Amar had a natural sense of charm in his portrayal of the title character and both Avive and Taziva-Faye performed their solo numbers beautifully. It will be exciting to see how their careers continue as they grow as performers.
The ‘overs’ or adult members of the company made up the extremely talented ensemble. The group numbers were the highlight of the show for me, with the extravagant dance routines and charismatic chorus lines. Paul Williams’ catchy numbers ‘Bad Guys’ and ‘You Wanna Be A Boxer’ were instant crowd pleasers with their memorable melodies. In the finale, the unders (young cast) and overs got together for a mash-up of the main songs from the production. It was a joy to hear all of their voices together in such a celebratory format!
Costumes and sets
From the pinstripe suits to the glitzy flapper dresses, Jon Bausor’s costumes gave the production so much colour and life. The sets for Bugsy Malone are dark and enigmatic, staying true to the crime-ridden 1920s location. In the big dance numbers my eyes were drawn straight to the dresses, specifically that of the showgirls with their sequins and matching headbands. The creative team managed to take a bare and somewhat empty set and make it practically glow, with the glimmering outfits and roaring twenties inspired art deco signs.
A standout location however was Fat Sam’s Club, acting as a visual tribute to the jazz age. Featuring an era-appropriate bar which was surrounded by bold lights, the illuminated drinks bottles added a sense of glitz and glam to the premises. The giant twenties-themed Fat Sam’s sign also added to the ambiance, making you feel as if you’d taken a step back in time to the flapper period.
Lighting, sound and special effects
For the most part lighting, sound and special effects were used for humorous purposes, but given the nature of the material there were moments of tension too. Most notably in act one, flash lighting was used in a continuous manner to create drama in a drive-by scene. The lighting was very intense on the eyes, with the plot evolving between flashes as the characters moved about on stage. I personally found it too much, but it was definitely a unique approach to conveying the spectacle that was a tense meeting between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan.
A humorous musical about gang culture in the roaring twenties, Bugsy Malone* is a brilliant platform for young musical theatre talent. With memorable characters and songs, the 2022 tour is a shining example of period comedy done right and it features an incredibly talented cast. There are two more legs across the country before the tour finishes and if you enjoy classic musicals, Bugsy Malone should definitely be on your must-see list. There are a handful of tickets remaining for the show’s run at the Marlowe Theatre, ahead of the production’s closure on Saturday.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket and programme for Bugsy Malone was gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.