Based on Alan Parker’s 1976 debut feature film, with the book by him and words and music by the greatly underrated Paul Williams, this fun show is a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Chicago prohibition era, when gangsters all had nicknames, were always accompanied by slinkily-dressed molls and ran clip joints and illicit alcohol stills. It is also an almost unique opportunity to get upwards of 40 children (plus a few supporting adults) onto a stage and have them sing and dance with such enjoyment.
Director/Designer Alick Leech has done a great job here, conjuring up the period with music, movement and costume. In the course of events we were transported to Fat Sam’s Grand Slam speakeasy, Dandy Dan’s den, a backstage dressing room, a Chinese laundry, and a dockside warehouse, cleverly augmented, through additional film interludes, by a forest car chase (in genuine period cars), and a movie film audition in true silent slapstick style.
The story centres on the relationship between the eponymous Bugsy (a likeable, easy-going Nico Bray) and the apple of his eye Blousey Brown, a movie wannabe, (Spot On regular Rhianna Killick) desperate to get to Hollywood. Along the way the couple get involved with racketeer and gang boss Fat Sam (a strong debut from Daniel Rogers with a good Bronx accent) and rival gang boss Dandy Dan (a dapper Josh Scrivener). They are intent on wiping out each other’s operation with the help of ‘Splurge Guns’ and cream pies, much to the audience’s delight, but possibly not so much the cast’s!
The musical numbers are a mixed bag, and Paul Williams’ tunes serve the chorus best, including such instantly hummable ensemble numbers as ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’, ‘So You Want To Be A Boxer’ and the Oliver!-like ‘Down And Out’, set in a dead-beat’s soup kitchen. Of the solo numbers, Isobel Palmer fared best with the Act Two opener ‘My Name Is Tallulah’.
Also in the mix were some great cameos, particularly Mick Attwood as Fizzy, the janitor desperate to do an audition, Adam Rush as gang-member Knuckles (with the most physical and protracted death scene I have witnessed in a theatre!) and Andrew Wood as boxer Leroy Smith, a man of very few words but who packs a punch just when required.
The band, under MD Martin Bennetts, provided perfect support for the actors, and Abbie Jennings’ choreography showcased the big tap numbers reminiscent of the Busby Berkeley musicals. Through the run the scene changes will need to be a little sharper, but this is a small issue compared with seeing such a talented and committed company singing and dancing their hearts out. Long may they ‘splurge’!