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.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆