Tag Archives: Alan Parker

Gangsters’ Paradise


The REP, Birmingham, Friday 29th July 2022

Alan Parker’s much-loved film comes to the stage in this exuberant touring production that originated at London’s Lyric Theatre.  As in the movie, the roles (the principal ones, at least) are played by child actors.  It’s New York in the 1930s, a city dominated by the gangland rivalry between Fat Sam and Dapper Dan.  The latter has the upper hand, thanks to the advent of a new weapon, the splurge gun.  Sam’s men are getting splattered, or ‘splurged’ at an alarming rate.  This is organised paintballing.  While the deaths are quite graphically executed, so to speak, the actors get up again and walk off, just like a child’s game.  Sam strives to regain dominance by tracking down the source of the new guns.  Meanwhile, the eponymous Bugsy is trying to raise the dough to get his new love interest, Blousey, to Hollywood…

As crime boss Fat Sam, Albie Snelson throws his weight around convincingly, portraying the long-suffering, the short fuse, to perfection.  He is supported by a host of characters played by the slightly-older chorus, ensuring his scenes are a lot of fun.  Jasmine Sakyiama’s statuesque gangster’s moll, Tallulah has a dignity and knowingness to her, but lacks the jadedness of Jodie Foster, but this production keeps almost everything upbeat.  As Sam’s rival, Dandy Dan, Desmond Cole has an unquestionable authority.

Mia Lakha’s Blousey, the wannabe star, proves she can deliver the goods, belting out a couple of torch songs that suggest this Blousey will go far. Special mentions go to Aidan Oti for his sweet but downtrodden Fizzy, and Mohamed Bangura as burly boxer Leroy.

In the title role, the diminutive Gabriel Payne gives a phenomenal performance, with singing and dancing that takes my breath away but not, apparently, his.  It’s as though Billy Elliott has turned to crime.  His acting his top drawer.   In fact, across the board, the stylised Noo Yoik accents are done well, suiting the snappy dialogue of Parker’s script. While the screenplay revels in its own cinematic artifice, the stage adaptation acknowledges its theatricality, in an almost Brechtian way. Fat Sam having to change his own scene, kvetching about it as he does so, is just one example.

The score is marvellous, with all music and lyrics by Paul Williams, and it’s a treat to be reminded of his brilliance.  Drew McOnie’s lively choreography brings us all the period tropes of the dancing of the era but strings them together in a manner that seems fresh and new.

Children acting as adults shows us the childishness of the adults’ behaviour, leading to nothing but death and destruction.  I would have liked more splurge in the climactic bloodbath, for the stage to be awash with foam and custard pies, but the point is made.  Society needs to put down its guns and ditch the territorial attitude if any of us is to have a chance to survive.


☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Little big man: Gabriel Payne as Bugsy and Jasmine Sakyiama as Tallulah (Photo: Johan Persson)

Talent Management


The Alexandra, Birmingham, Monday 19th November, 2018


It strikes me as odd that in a musical, where everyone sings and dances at the drop of a hat with impressive proficiency, the characters should see the need to go to a performing arts college.  But, putting this reservation aside, I settle in for an entertaining evening.

David De Silva’s stage show is inspired by Alan Parker’s hard-hitting film and the somewhat sentimental TV series that followed, and so the characters here are versions of the originals, adhering to types and situations familiar from the previous incarnations.

Ruling the roost as the strict-but-caring Miss Sherman, the mighty Mica Paris is in great form.  Her old-school rhythm and blues number in the second act brings the house down, a searing bit of soul-searching triggered by a run-in with illiterate, arrogant bad boy Tyrone (an intense Jamal Crawford).

Stephanie Rojas is appealing as fame-hungry Carmen whose road to the top is diverted by drug abuse; Simon Anthony gives a sensitive portrayal as her musician friend, Schlomo.  Hayley Johnson adds a touch of humour as Mabel (it’s not just fame she’s hungry for!); while Hollyoaks’s Jorgie Porter convinces as graceful dancer Iris.  Molly McGuire’s Serena is one of the more rounded characters.  She gets to sing one of the score’s stronger tunes about her unrequited love for Keith Jack’s Nick.  Jack is excellent and, unlike most of the others, doesn’t just belt out his numbers, but shows us how vocal dynamics can add character to and enhance the meaning of a song.

The trouble is there are just too many characters, too many subplots.  We only glimpse them throughout the course of their four-year studies.  Albey Brookes’s extrovert, very funny Joe has potential for a proper storyline, but he’s elbowed aside in favour of Serena and Nick’s story.  His resolution is tagged on in a throwaway line about working in a comedy club.  Similarly, Carmen’s descent into drug addiction is handled glibly.  There is simply not time enough in Jose Fernandez’s book to get beneath the surface of their experiences, and this is a shame given the calibre of this talented and energetic cast.  The score, with lyrics by Jacques Levy and music by Steve Margoshes, is also patchy, reaffirming my belief that the show shouldn’t be a musical at all but a play with music that allows us to see the progress the students make in their chosen field of acting, music or dance.

For all that, it’s still an enjoyable watch and it’s easy to be entertained by the performers.  It’s just that I would prefer something with a little more substance regarding the pursuit of fame and the effect of that on young lives.  In this celebrity-obsessed age where anyone can achieve notoriety without a shred of talent, the show could have had a stronger impact.

Fame The Musical-Tour-Manchester-2216

Class acts: the students of FAME




Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 4th March, 2014 

Fame‘s first incarnation was Alan Parker’s hard-hitting film of 1980, in which an assortment of aspiring performing arts students get their bubbles burst, their illusions shattered and their hearts broken in a variety of ways.  The film (which is still an excellent watch) was adapted into a more family-friendly television series that did pretty well.

This current production is an updated version of the stage show from a few years back, and so the characters have mobile phones and the music has an edgier, urban sound.  Ish.

But don’t expect the characters from the film or TV show.  Here we get alternative versions.  Leroy is now Tyrone, Coco is now Carmen, and beloved Mr Shorofsky is now Mr Scheinkopf.  Don’t ask me why.  The only recognisable elements are the theme song with its iconic guitar riff and the setting, the New York High School for the Performing Arts – a kind of Hogwarts for egotists and extroverts.

The trouble is, because this is a musical, everyone sings and dances all the time.  They express themselves through song and dance and they’re all bloody good at it.  The question arises: why do they need to attend a performing arts school for four years?  What can the course possibly teach them that they’re not already doing in their daily lives?  It’s a clash of form and content that could be solved by staging the story as a straight play with musical numbers, then we could see the students progress, succeed or fail.  As it is, they all look like they’ve aced the course already.

The quality of the production values is very high.  this talented ensemble exudes energy that infects and invigorates the audience.  It is a pity that the material doesn’t match their abilities.  There are so many characters there isn’t really time to develop each subplot satisfactorily.  Serena (Sarah Harlington) sings sweetly about her unrequited love for Nick (Alex Jordan-Mills) then hears a rumour he is gay.  She confronts him about it.  “I’m not gay,” he tells her.  Oh, ok then.  Problem solved.  Promising dancer Tyrone (a superb Alex Thomas) hides his illiteracy behind belligerence and swagger.  Cue an unconvincing sing-off about educational policy by the English and Dance teachers.  As Miss Sherman, Landi Oshinowo belts like a Motormouth Maybelle, but I couldn’t stomach her solo, impressively sung though it was, about thanking god for blessing her with the teaching profession.  Tyrone is eventually kicked out.  Problem solved.  Well, not really.

Joseph Giacone grabs our attention as class clown Joey (not Johnny) Vegas.  it’s disappointing that he is sort of sidelined later on.  His resolution is a throwaway line saying he’s appearing at a comedy club.  Jodie Steele is riveting as fame-hungry drama queen Carmen. who drops out to try her luck in Los Angeles, only to return broken and bedraggled and to walk in front of a car.  Not the best ending to a story that was building nicely about drug abuse.

Molly Stewart stops the show as food enthusiast Mabel with a country/gospel number about being unable to stick to a diet.  it’s a fun, feel-good moment, at the end of which she shrugs and decides to switch her major to Drama.  Problem solved.

The final scene – graduation! – has them all filing on in robes to sing the song Carmen supposedly wrote.  It’s mawkish, sentimental tripe about facing the future with optimism.  “Bring on tomorrow!”  Instead of being emotionally affecting or uplifting, it’s enough to make you sick.  Bring on the buckets, more like.

It’s not enough to update the script to name-drop Rihanna and even Freddie Prinze Jr (yes, him).  A couple of sub-plots need to be cut in order to allow the others to breathe.  And the show shouldn’t fudge any of the issues it dances around, in order to maximise emotional impact.  I think this dazzling cast of young performers deserve a better story to tell.