You’d have to be some Victor Meldrew-Ebenezer Scrooge hybrid (or perhaps The Guardian’s prominent theatre critic) not to absolutely adore Bugsy Malone at the Lyric Hammersmith. Sean Holmes’s much anticipated production is not trying to preach some clever message – instead it is just pure, unadulterated fun.
Even the 12 people on earth who haven’t seen the 1976 film are aware of Paul Williams’s brilliant songs. And they’re all included here: ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’, ‘Bad Guys’, ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’ et al, are all performed with joyous aplomb.
Bugsy Malone contains a knowing nod and wink both to the film and to the current crop of immense performers on the Lyric stage. Scenes so lovingly remembered from the film, such as the pedal-car chase, are reinterpreted wonderfully, while scene changes are witty and imaginative, such as the single-handed change from Fat Sam, with much huffing and puffing directed to the audience, an audience presumably filled nightly with wide-eyed relatives.
Drew McOnie’s choreography is electric. The young cast’s skills are tested and trusted, and all the numbers bounce out towards the auditorium. It is all delivered with a confidence and slickness that belies their years.
It is possibly unfair to single out performers within such a mesmeric ensemble, but particularly strong were Asanda Jezile as Tallulah, who opens Act II with a velvety radiance, Emily Beacock as the gloriously grotesque Lena/Baby Face, Miles Barrow as the nervy Knuckles, and Dale White’s smallish but significant role as the boxing instructor in the stand-out moment of the show. In truth, I could comment on so many more; Hammed Animashaun’s unwilling boxer or Marley Lockhart’s frustrated cleaner-cum-dancer for instance.
It pains me to find fault with any element of the production, but if I wanted to be pedantic I could point out that occasionally the otherwise brilliant orchestra were at risk of drowning out some of the singing. A softer orchestra may cater better for some of the younger performers. Equally, sometimes diction and accent went a little wayward, but I honestly didn’t care.
I literally danced my way to Hammersmith tube afterwards. Following the Lyric’s extensive two-year renovation project, how wonderful that their incredible new facilities are matched by such a gem on stage.
Bugsy Malone is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 1 August. For tickets and more information, see the Lyric Hammersmith website.