‘We could have been anything that we wanted to be,

With all the talent we had …’

… except these poor kids can’t.

In April last year, the delightful Lyric Hammersmith reopened with a commendably well-structured stage version of Bugsy Malone. Great production values, props, costumes, fight direction and orchestrations. Reviving it for the whole of this summer requires three very young actors to play each of the seven leads so to keep consistency between performances, some pretty stringent direction has been applied. In fact, with the robotic precision of the dance routines, choreographer Drew McOnie might as well have been off stage pulling wires.

This restriction on individual expression seems stricter than, say Billy Elliott whose young leads were allowed some flexibility of delivery, and slightly detracts from what is otherwise a finely produced and performed show. Admittedly some of the whooping and cheering from the parental crowd on press night was over-enthusiastic, but overall the kids done good. Particularly the lads (and two inexplicable girls) who form the gang of hoodlums in this juvenile homage to Guys and Dolls.

It’s an enthusiastically multicultural cast, as you’d expect from a cross section of stage school teens, and the young singers who play Tallulah or Blousey may have a bluesier vocal edge, but as Fizzy, the boy who cleans the floors at Fat Sam’s speakesy, an otherwise first-rate Elliot Aubrey is robbed of some of the 1976 movie’s pathos where his is the notably put upon black character.

Many, many good performances celebrate the charm and energy of Paul Williams’ score including Rhianna Dorris exorcising the ghost of Jodie Foster as a mean Tallulah and Tabitha Knowles’ gentle but steely Blousey – but some like Jaydah Bell-Ricketts’ Lena are too like X-Factor auditions and others muddied by struggles with Brooklynese diction and a highly inconsistent sound system.
The production numbers for the ensemble are truly inspiring – ‘So You Wanna Be a Boxer’ is triumphant, and everyone under 15 in the audience wanted to join in ‘You Give A Little Love’ – McOnie’s choreography and the inventiveness of Jon Bausor’s design won’t fail to please and if your need a summer show to take the kids to, Harry Potter’s sold out and Aladdin’s too expensive, with a top price of £40, Bugsy Malone could be your very best bet.

Until 4 September.


Trivium: The Stage and Daily Telegraph reviews insist it’s set in Chicago, but I’m fairly sure Fat Sam’s Grand Slam speakeasy was meant to be on the Lower East Side in New York and this is Runyonland, not Roxie-land …