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Review: Bugsy Malone at Liverpool Empire ****

Alan Parker’s colourful confection of gangsters and showgirls has entertained generations of youngsters since it burst on to the big screen almost half-a-century ago.

So perhaps it’s unsurprising there was a healthy mix of ages in a busy Empire auditorium on the opening night of this latest touring stage musical version of the splurge-tacular spoof which stars a cast of talented teen (and barely teen) actors.

The shady underbelly of Prohibition era New York is realised through Jon Bausor’s set – gritty grey city backdrops and a clanging iron staircase juxtaposed with the razzle dazzle of Fat Sam’s subterranean speakeasy – and sharp flapper/gangster costuming, enhanced with Philip Gladwell’s (mostly) subdued lighting design.

Just watch out, if you’re susceptible, for the strobing effects during a striking car chase scene ahead of the interval.

It certainly creates an atmospheric backdrop to the (tongue-in-cheek) tale of the take-no-prisoners turf war between gangster bosses Fat Sam (Isham Sankoh) and Dandy Dan (Kit Cranston) – a war into which wanders the titular loner, penniless boxing promoter Bugsy (Shaun Sharma, making his stage debut) and cynical, would-be screen starlet Blousey Brown (Delilah Bennett-Cardy, a former Summer in School of Rock in the West End).

Can Bugsy help Sam to defeat Dandy Dan’s splurge-gun toting wise guys? Will Blousey ever make it to Hollywood? And will the mop-wielding Fizzy (a winsome Elliot Arthur Mugume, also making his professional stage debut) ever get an audition or be forever told to come back ‘tomorrow’?

Above and top - the touring production of Bugsy Malone. Photos by Pamela Raith Photography.

Under Sean Holmes’s direction the story rattles entertainingly along, and the impressive young cast are full of energy and knowing humour, particularly in the big set piece numbers – including Fat Sam’s Grand Slam, Bad Guys and So You Want to be a Boxer? – which are crisply and cleverly choreographed by Drew McOnie and with musical support from a great band in the pit.

Three young performers alternate each of the main roles depending on the performance. Saying that, understudy Alicia Belgarde was on as Tallulah on press night, and delivered a coolly confident performance as the wisecracking chanteuse and narrator.

The high kicks, left hooks, soft shoe shuffles and cracking knuckles all take us inexorably towards a final frantic, killer diller showdown at Fat Sam’s - although 21st Century health and safety means no one gets comprehensively pied/splurged in the face as they did in the 1976 film – and a thumping, unexpectedly modern final number.


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