Bugsy Malone

November 16, 2022 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆   Goo Housekeeping

Playhouse: Tue 15 – Sun 20 Nov 2022
Review by Martin Gray

So you wanna see a musical? Then Edinburgh Playhouse has just that this week as Bugsy Malone roars into town, staying right through to Sunday.

Based on Alan Parker’s 1976 musical movie about warring gangsters in the days of Prohibition and the nice guy and saloon singer caught between them, the hummable songs of Paul Williams are all present and correct.

Performers dancing on the set of Bugsy Malone.

Bugsy Malone Ensemble Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

There’s a talented young cast and a talented even younger cast because, you will likely recall, the film’s gimmick was that the adults were all played by kids, but when a song arrived, the kids were miming to grown-ups. It was bizarre, but somehow it worked.

On stage, though, the young leads – there are three teams sharing the spotlight – get to do their own singing, and it’s a mixed blessing. Some, like press night’s Amar Blackman (Bugsy), Taziva-Faye Katsande (Tallulah), Charlie Burns (Fat Sam) and Avive Savannah Williams (Blousey) prove able to project; but others are less successful.

The musicality of the orchestra led by Connagh Tonkinson is spot on but the sound balance is simply off – lyrics are drowned out again and again.

energy

The cast members, led by the charismatic Blackman, have so much pep they are likely sponsored by Smarties – the energy level is through the roof. The young leads are supported by slightly older actors, who make for a mighty powerful ensemble.

Luchia Moss (ensemble), Alicia Belgarde (ensemble), Taziva-Faye Katsande as Tallulah, Alisha Capon (ensemble), Georgia Pemberton (ensemble) in Bugsy Malone. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

While not reflected in the programme, some had feature roles and added hugely to the show, such as Marcus Billany as amusingly annoying henchman Knuckles. His movement, his delivery, his entire performance is a joy. Kalifa Burton is also a hoot as wannabe boxer Leroy, a Tasmanian Devil in his comedic physicality.

The most impressive number in the entire show, So You Wanna Be a Boxer, is led by another chap who doesn’t make the cast list – step forward Luke Mills as Cagey Joe the boxing coach, you punched well above your weight.

dazzling

The entire ensemble is excellent and it is the group numbers that really light up the stage – Fat Sam’s Grand Slam, Down and Out, Bad Guys… all are sung beautifully, with the choreography of Drew McOnie sold to a dazzling degree.

The solo numbers, when they can be heard, are pretty impressive, with Avive Savannah Williams’s Ordinary Fool and Taziva-Faye Katsande’s My Name is Tallulah standouts.

Charlie Burns as Fat Sam & ensemble. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography.

Of the non-musical scenes, favourite is an audition sequence with a succession of hopeless acts perfectly presented by the ensemble. And Charlie Burns has huge fun with a spot – well, a lot – of scene shifting as the fourth-wall breaking Fat Sam.

Talking of sets, the production design by Jon Bausor cleverly evokes the Twenties, with its glamorous speakeasies and sleazy back alleys. Bausor also handles the costumes, meaning the gangsters’ slick suits and dancers’ spangly frocks fit right in.

The lighting by Philip Gladwell is mostly excellent but a spotlight might usefully guide audience eyes to a royal box during audition scene – most people seemed to have no idea the offstage voice barking instructor was among them.

The Bugsy Malone Ensemble. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

This production does have one massive disappointment, though… when you think of the film, you thing of splurge guns – Tommy guns spraying fresh cream. You also think custard pies. You think people blasting one another with sticky goo, or getting literally pie-eyed.

There’s precious little of that in this Bugsy Malone – custard pies come out a couple of times but wiseguys are merely poked politely in the chest. Splurge guns make a heck of a racket but spray pea-sized gobbets of cream over otherwise pristine suits. This makes the big fight finale between the forces of Fat Sam and rival Dandy Dan pretty pathetic. Though not for long – it lasts perhaps a tenth the time of its film equivalent.

Who knows whether this is director Sean Holmes playing it boringly safe or whether it is down to guidance from some humourless Health and Safety type, but any kids expecting a Keystone Cops-style custard pie fight are going to be mighty disappointed.

Thank goodness, then, for an electrifying megamix finale, which takes the show’s songs and gives them a very modern pop treatment; enough to send everyone out with a smile on their faces. Still, if I ever go back to Bugsy Malone, I may have to smuggle in a custard pie or two…

Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
Playhouse, 18-22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 November 2022
Tue – Sat 7pm; Mats: Weds @ Sat: 2pm; Sun: 1pm only.
Tickets and details: book here.

Amar Blackman as Bugsy Malone & ensemble in Bugsy Malone. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

ENDS

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