Acclaim for 'magnificent' Bugsy Malone at newly-opened Lyric Hammersmith

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There’s been unanimous praise for the brand-new production of Sir Alan Parker and Paul Williams’s hit musical, Bugsy Malone, at the Lyric Hammersmith in London.  It launched a £20 million redevelopment of the West London theatre and had Parker bursting with superlatives for the show, saying “this is magnificent, (it’s) in a stratosphere somewhere else”.  The UK press were totally in agreement with him, too (see below).
 
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‘It is all staged by Sean Holmes with great elan, the cast is highly talented, and the audience went wild with delight. The Lyric clearly has a hit on its hands…’
The Guardian (Michael Billington), 28 April 2015
 
‘No beating about Shepherd’s Bush, this Hammersmith Bugsy Malone is a blast - a triumphant return for the stage version of Alan Parker’s adored 1976 film-musical, which braved ridicule and broke the mould by planting children in the roles of Prohibition-era mobsters, their molls and those caught in the “splurge-gun” cross-fire – conjuring a world in which life’s as throwaway as a lollipop.
Reopening the renovated theatre, director Sean Holmes could have ended up with egg (or should that be custard-pie, the other weapon of choice here?) all over his face.
The mind boggles at the logistical challenges involved in bringing a 35-strong company, aged nine to 22 (with the leads, in general the youngest, performing in repertoire), to the peak of razzmatazz perfection.
Yet that's what’s happened. Sure, some of the lines are a bit gabbled, a few of the interactions are a touch gauche – but isn’t that part of the charm? Where it counts – American accents, deadpan attitudes, dance-steps and vocal strength – the show delivers the goods with knock-out force.
The production has the vitality of youth but isn’t “youth theatre”; it stands comparison with Matilda et al.
Making a fluid virtue of scenic simplicity, Holmes and designers Jon Bausor and James Farncombe give us a film-noir mood using basic theatrical means: an exposed mass of black brick-wall, a lot of shadow and moody side-lighting, though things brighten up, with a pop-out bar and proscenium-arch light-bulbs, whenever the scene shifts to Fat Sam’s sleazy Speakeasy.
The big gamble is that it’s the children themselves who’ll make it look a million dollars – and, radiating mischief, personality and talent right across the stage and out to us, they sure as hell do.
Trusting the youngsters to carry the whole kit and caboodle – above all the songs (lip-synched in the film) - lends crucial emotional substance to the pastiche style and elegant dressing-up-box fun. The droll-poignant conceit - scrambling the simple dichotomies of youth and age - is writ large in Drew McOnie’s terrific choreography, which combines juvenile exuberance with a drilled professionalism beyond the fledgling stars’ tender years.
Among the stand-outs at the performance I attended were Oliver Emery as diminutive moustachioed villain Dandy Dan, dwarfed by his overcoat, James Okulaja as a larger-than-life Fat Sam and Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Bugsy’s wisecracking, would-be starlet sweetheart Blousey.
But they’re all champs. Small wonder Sir Alan apparently had tears streaming down his cheeks during previews. This is something very special indeed.’
The Telegraph (Dominic Cavendish), 29 April 2015
 
 ‘… children were the stars of Sean Holmes’s ebullient, sassy, grab-you-by-the-tear-ducts production of Bugsy Malone.
Alan Parker says that he has “actively discouraged professional productions” of his 1976 film. Not surprisingly. The idea of making a musical about gangland Chicago during Prohibition and casting it with kids who destroy faces with cream buns rather than bullets was always audacious. A dimpled, kiss-curl rendering of these gangsterettes would be not only cutesey but creepy. The show, a punchy tribute and take-off of the Broadway musicals, deserves better. It has a tip-top score and incisive dialogue by Paul Williams. Holmes’s production does it proud…
Success is not a matter of knock-out individuals. It comes from the big sweep of Drew McOnie’s choreography, featuring an especially smashing boxing sequence. And from continual smart touches. The gleaming, foot-pedalled car; the oversized evening gloves on skinny arms. And the face of a pocket-sized, swanking star, more full of makeup than features.’
The Observer (Susannah Clapp), 3 May 2015
 
‘This is a joyous show. Bugsy Malone may portray turf wars among Chicago villains, but in Alan Parker’s Seventies musical film the hoodlums and their hangers-on are appealingly played by actors with an average age of 12, and here the same youthful exuberance is to the fore.
As the pint-size gangsters tussle and their molls dream of escape, we’re treated to a mix of charm and mischief by a cast that ranges in age from about eight to 23. They embrace the slapstick elements of the admittedly slender plot, belt out Paul Williams’s songs, and wield splurge guns that emit great spurts of Angel Delight. Sean Holmes does a fine job of directing the young actors. Each main part is played by three children in rotation, and the press night performances set the bar high.
Daniel Purves’s Bugsy is perky, and Samantha Allison’s Tallulah has a strong voice and a degree of poise well beyond her years. The most vocally impressive cast member is Thea Lamb as Blousey Brown, while the most irresistible is Ashton Henry-Reid as soulful janitor Fizzy, and Max Gill is amusingly relaxed as nightclub owner Fat Sam. There’s also a lovely turn by Hammed Animashaun, a twentysomething protégé of Holmes, as the lumbering giant who saves Bugsy when he’s being mugged.
Jon Bausor’s elegant costumes and simple set allow the action to be as fluent as possible. The sharp choreography is by Drew McOnie, whose most athletic number, So You Wanna Be A Boxer, is a knockout… you’d have to be stony-hearted not to appreciate this celebration of young talent — just about the perfect way to reopen the Lyric after its £20 million refurbishment.’
Evening Standard (Henry Hitchings), 30 April 2015
 
'The show is a blast.'
What's On Stage
 
'Whomping big crowd-pleasing hit.'
The Times
 
'An entirely winning production.'
Time Out