Friday, August 02, 2019

Bugsy Malone – diminutive adolescents aping deadly adults in this classic musical (Grand Opera House until Saturday 3 August)

I counted at least 120 children on stage during the finale of Bugsy Malone. It was like a mob had descended as rival gangs, detectives and the speakeasy girls mingled under the proscenium arch.

Alan Parker’s book and Paul Williams’ music tell the story of a deadly power struggle between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan as witnessed by boxing scout Bugsy Malone. The war of weapons escalates while a flirtatious old flame upsets Bugsy’s new fancy and his chances of running away together. Oh, and this gangster tale is mockingly cast with children, armed with cream pies and splurge guns, making it a spoof on 1929 ‘Nue York’.

This is the second production of the summer by the Grand Opera House Trust who entertained audiences with an ambitious staging of Miss Saigon a couple of weeks ago. The Trust’s shows are a great opportunity for children to get over any stage fright and perform with a professional set, costumes, band and lighting.

Robbie McMinn confidently conducts the story. He’s more animated than most of the rest of the cast, and stands out, catching the audience’s eye, as he weaves his way through crowd scenes. It’s a vocally strong cast, particularly the principals, and none more so than Caroline McMichael who plays actress and singer Blousey Brown and belts out her songs with gusto. Jasmine Mirfield slips into Tallulah’s refined heels and steps between once cagey now romantically-inclined Bugsy and Blousey with some great dancing, backed by Rebecca Leonard’s choreographed ensemble.

There’s clearly been a directorial decision by Tony Finnegan not to milk Fat Sam’s character name and pop Fionntán MacGiolla Cheara into a fat suit to beef up his stage presence alongside his funny sidekick Knuckles (Finn Tyler). The comedy is at its sharpest when we observe diminutive adolescents aping the deadly adults, particularly Jay Lowey who makes an excellent rival gangster Dandy Dan.

Parker and Williams’ stage adaptation of their film has a lot of bitty scenes which could have sapped the life out of the musical if it hadn’t been for the very swift scene changes that at times move busloads of characters through the wings and emergency exits in a manner of seconds while stagehands are kept very busy up in the fly tower dropping in signage to set each new scene. Wilson Shields also helps keep the pace moving with the orchestra down in the pit (which includes some youth players).

The surprising entrance of a vehicle is becoming a motif of the Trust’s youth shows, and tonight’s pedal-powered limousine was an effective prop. With fine flapping and fast footwork throughout, the ginormous cast deliver a strong version of a slightly bonkers show that allows child’s play to innocently paper over the violent story that is being told.

Bugsy Malone continues at the Grand Opera House with a 2pm matinee and 7pm final performance on Saturday 3 August.

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