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Review: Bugsy Malone The Musical at Wales Millennium Centre

This is the first professional tour of a stage production of Alan Parker’s wonderful, 1976 musical comedy film Bugsy Malone – and if it doesn’t go on to tour over and over, like other West End classics, I’ll eat my Bugsy fedora.

This, after all is an Olivier Award-nominated stage production, and it’s clear to see why.

Amar Blackman as Bugsy Malone & ensemble. Credit: Pamela Raith

Curtain is already up on a suitably dark and moody split-level set, all-age – though mainly young – and excited audience surges into WMC’s Donald Gordon Theatre. This is prohibition era New York and rival mobsters Fat Sam and his calamity-ridden crew and slick Dandy Dan are splurge scrapping it out in a feud over Sam’s bootleg soda pop enterprise and the Holy Grail of Dan’s heist – an armoury of splurge guns.

Almost like a premonition of the current High School Musical – this production, directed by Sean Holmes, showcases young, child actors debuting and really shining in a comical parody of gun warfare.

Remember how twelve-year-old Jodie Foster went on to great things from the film, just like co-star Scott Baio (who absolutely melted my teenage heart as Chachi in Happy Days, being much sweeter and less obvious than The Fonz.) Further down the line, none other than the footballer Rio Ferdinand also debuted as a young Fizzy the janitor further down the line, who soul-searchingly croons ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ while mopping Fat Sam’s Speakeasy.

The Ensemble. Credit: Pamela Raith

This production makes for a thrilling ride for young theatre goers as, like the film, it’s a cast of children. A few adults feature in supporting ‘extras’ roles – a bartender, a waitress – and give the youngsters a run for their money with the slickest of Strictly-standard Cha-cha-cha dance routines and impeccable, high-energy routines of side splits; Great Gatsby flapper-style feather headpieces; Chicago-style shimmying in sequin-fringed slips – and everything in between. The dancing is universally brilliant.

This vibrant, pulsating production showcases three rotating casts and an adult ensemble supporting troupe: we were treated to Gabriel Payne as Bugsy, Mia Lakha as Blousey, Jasmine Sakiyama as Sam’s seductive gangster’s moll Talullah, Aidan Oti as Fizzy and – stars of the show for me, Desmond Cole as Dandy Dan and Albie Snelson making the most perfect Fat Sam – goofing around, hilarious and captivating with his Music Hall slapstick.

Credit: Pamela Raith

A ‘take outs’ or edited scene (not in the film) of Sam having to shift his own scenery (bemoaning, “I’m sure Dandy Dan never had to shift his own scenery”) had the younger theatre goers in stitches laughing – they remained on-the-edge-of-their-seats captivated throughout, singing along and groaning in unison at calamitous Knuckles’ characteristic knuckle crunching.

Slow-mo strobe lighting was used to depict the high-speed car chase and clever choreography and special effects also meant ‘So You Wanna Be A Boxer’ and the boxing ring created, were highlights.

Desmond Cole managed to nail his Fat Sam drawl to ensure his diction was still on point, whereas some dialogue elsewhere was very occasionally hard to understand with American accents.

With a stand-out musical score composed by Paul Wiliams, this features more superb singing than dialogue, as any piece of good musical theatre should.

On opening night in Cardiff, there was a standing ovation and encore after encore after the finale, where all cast get splurged to death, and come back to life to make friends and dance their socks off again to ‘You Give A Little Love [and it all comes back to you]’ – has there ever been a more fitting mantra?

Bugsy Malone is perfect as a first trip to the theatre or for those of us wanting to relive the influential film. This is a real riot of Tommy guns and foam pies; a polished production that oozes talent and charm.

It’s showing for one week only – don’t miss out!

For more information and to book tickets, visit: https://www.wmc.org.uk/en/whats-on/2023/bugsy-malone