I was seduced into seeing Bugsy Malone by an enthusiastic preview I saw about the process of turning the film into a stage musical. A bunch of kids and whipped cream on stage? Gangster fun, 70s style? It all sounded like a very good time, and as the positive reviews came in I became convinced I needed to see it, more so as I attempted to book tickets only to find night after night sold out. Well! A genuine, home grown hit, at a not-West End theater! How exciting!
Today I can only shake my head in shock. What went wrong here? How could so many reviewers lead me wrong? Looking at it, I think there must be some serious differences between the different kids that are in the cast. The night I went, Fat Sam spoke in a manner that made it impossible to understand what he was saying. Really, it was so bad that I was completely lost about the action on stage. What was the conflict in the first act? I’m not sure, as I was having to guess based on body language. His arch nemesis, redhead Dandy Dan, didn’t help either. I couldn’t help but wonder just what had happened with their dialogue coach. Did they have them speaking with marbles in their mouths and then leave the marbles in? To add insult to injury, Fizzy sang his solo number (“Tomorrow”) off key. Now, he looked like a really little kid, and I appreciated the effort, but it just grated.
On the other hand, there were some really great performances, most especially from our Tallulah (Samantha Allison) and the ethereal Thea Lamb (Blousey Brown). Both of these young women could really sing, but they also put forth a tremendous amount of personality in their performances, and I relaxed and enjoyed myself during their spotlight numbers. Similarly, the Bugsy we had on our night (Daniel Purves?) was a total pro – he worked the crowd like he’d been doing it for years.
The production values were uniformly high – excellent costumes, fully-developed choreography (the stand out number still being the one in the boxing ring) and a great depiction of life in 1930s Chicago – but it wasn’t enough to change the fact that I barely knew what was going on and felt like the numbers had been added to fill out a very slimly plotted show. While I have to congratulate the Lyric on the effort to put a production like this on, I can’t help but wonder why it got such good reviews. Ultimately, I’d only give this show one star. It was a long and generally unpleasant night and the few good bits were not enough to save this incoherent (literally and figuratively) show.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, August 17th, 2015. It continues through September 5th.)