Bugsy Malone – Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

Bugsy Malone Ensemble Lyric Hammersmith. Photo by Tristram Kenton

The Bugsy Malone ensemble at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Picture: Tristram Kenton

Bugsy Malone continues at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London until 4 September.

Rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

When it was revealed that Bugsy Malone was going to be the show to reopen the newly redeveloped Lyric Hammersmith in 2015, it sounded like an ambitious project, not least because the creative powers-that-be were committed to the whole cast being made up of talented young performers (on the same lines as director Alan Parker’s original 1976 movie featuring Paul Williams’ splendid score).

However, it was a decision that certainly paid off – the hugely successful staging was nominated for an Olivier Award – and now it’s back at the Lyric for a second run, featuring a smattering of performers already familiar with the splurge-gun gangster battles of the first production, as well as a line-up of new faces too.

There may be a few tentative moments for some of the young actors in the early stages of the evening, particularly around the delivery of dialogue, but on the whole the cast’s maturity and professionalism impresses from the word go.

To have Rhianna Dorris’ sassy Tallulah play the role of narrator, as well as the leading star at her gangster boyfriend Fat Sam’s Grand Slam nightspot, is a very clever move from Lyric Theatre artistic director Sean Holmes. Dorris is such a standout performer, she nails the American accent (as do most of the main players), confidently comments on the action, and tackles her big number with great assurance.

Dorris is not the only artist to make her mark though; all her co-stars do so in different ways. Adryan Dorset-Pitt soon gets into his stride, not just charming Tabitha Knowles’ Blousey Brown, but oozing charisma in Act II numbers like ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’ (credit also to Marcus Sharif and Damian Buhagiar) and ’Down and Out’.

Knowles turns out to be a budding actress with plenty of potential and is no slouch as a singer either, as her touching storytelling in ‘Ordinary Fool’ proves. Probably the best vocals of the evening, though, come from Elliot Aubrey’s Fizzy as he dreams of getting a dance audition ‘Tomorrow’.

The comedy surrounding the feud between Alesandro Bonelli’s Dandy Dan and Max Gill’s Fat Sam is emphasised by their difference in stature. How the former keeps a straight face as he bullies his gang of hoodlums, all of which are several feet taller than him, I don’t know.

Gill demonstrates great comic timing and is something of a born entertainer. His joy at breaking down the fourth wall and addressing the audience is infectious, especially when the stage crew seems to have gone AWOL and he is forced to sort a scene change on his own.

Adding to the pleasure is the whole sound (MD and orchestrator is Phil Bateman) and look of the production. Thanks to designer Jon Bausor, a grey brick backstage area of theatre can transform into the glitz and glamour of Fat Sam’s Grand Slam, a boxing gym or a splurge-gun warehouse. Along with the stunning costumes, the setting perfectly captures the atmosphere of 1920s New York and the classic gangster movies of that period.

The final word must go to Drew McOnie’s wonderfully original choreography, staying true to the mood of the piece (with a nod to silent movies), but also giving the ensemble numbers such a contemporary edge.

From the early work with hats in ‘Bad Guys’ to the brilliantly executed stagecraft of ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’, McOnie has excelled himself here, bringing out all the youthful exuberance of such a talented cast.

Lisa Martland

* Three different performers alternate each of the central roles of Tallulah, Fat Sam, Bugsy Malone, Blousey Brown, Fizzy, Dandy Dan and Lena/Baby Face.

Tickets for Bugsy Malone are available HERE.

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