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A stage set for splodging

Bugsy Malone

The New Alexandra Theatre

***

STAGE Experience, now in its ninth year, is a wonderful way of giving scores of youngsters just that – a chance to see what goes into putting on a show in the professional theatre.

And they took their chance with bags of energy in Bugsy Malone, the stage version of Alan Parker’s quirky 1976 film spoof about mobsters all played by children.

I have never been sure that what was a novelty film ever transferred successfully to the stage. It is a very bitty and disjointed and  where on film you can get away with short scenes, sometimes no more than a couple of lines of dialogue, on stage it can get very messy breaking any continuity or rhythm.

It is easy to see the appeal for schools and youth groups though. For a start all the cast are meant to be children and there are not a lot of those around and let's be honest, it is a lot less brutal and much more fun than Lord of the Flies.

The size of the cast with chorus girls, mobsters, paper boys, police, boxers and night club customers is limited only by how many people you can cram on stage and pack in the dressing rooms which means everyone can have a part – important in schools and youth theatre.

This production has 14 principals and 86 others. A cast of 100 plus an orchestra of nine and even though the stage looked like a crowd scene from Ben Hur at the finale all credit to the youngsters for making it look natural rather than a scrum.

LOOKED GOOD

The chorus girls, Fat Sam’s Dancers, deserve praise in particular for not only dancing well and in unison but doing it seemingly effortlessly often on a crowded stage, which means a lot of hard work went in there – they also looked good which always lifts a show.

Last year’s production, Fame, gave principals a chance to shine with characters, songs and dialogue they could get their teeth into.

Bugsy does not really give that sort of opportunity. The music is pleasant , even catchy, but none of the songs have become standards and the one dimensional cartoon characters are not meant to develop.

Leading us through this comic book world is Bugsy Malone, a sort of Runyanesque character who is not quite legal but not quite crooked, played with some confidence by Dale Phillips from West Bromwich.

As in all good gangster tales Bugsy is smitten by a broad, in this case wannabe star Blousy Brown played by Imogen Wellsbury from Wolverhampton who produced one of the musical highlights with Only a Fool when she thinks Bugsy has let her down. But he hasn’t so the happy ending was still on the cards.

Coventry’s Travis Blake-Hall gave us another notable song as the Fat Sam’s speakeasy sweeper-up Fizzy with the soulful Tomorrow, the usual reply from Fat Sam whenever Fizzy asked for an audition.

Leah Walker from Sutton Coldfield shows a fine voice as Tallulah, Sam’s singer and girlfriend and when it comes to confidence look out for Annabel Mae Russell, aged just nine from Leicester, who plays Broadway star Lena Marelli and can really belt out a song and dance.

Behind it all Fat Sam (Keiran Palmer) and his gangland rival Dandy Dan (Samuel Stone) are at war with Dandy Dan taking out Sam’s gangsters with his Mark II Splurge guns - old school Sam’s custard pies are no match for new technology, weapons of mass custard cream like that.

It all leads up to the final battle after which everyone appears to live happily ever after and ready for a lively finale with a reprise of the numbers in the show to make mums, dads, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives proud and happy.

Just a small point for directors though. The view from the circle ends at the perimeter of the stage so any action offstage in the stalls and the aisles is unseen by those in the circle and the gods.  And Bugsy did have a lot including for some unexplained reason a chase set to the old Benny Hill show tune Yakety Sax. To 27-08-11.

Roger Clarke

And from the other side of town . . .

****

WHAT a joy to drive into Birmingham city centre and see 110 young people displaying talents that do not include lobbing bricks through windows or looting property.

 Mind you, there were a couple of shootings in the opening five minutes of this musical which tells the story of gang warfare in 1920s New York.

 But its all good fun, with the victims' suffering no more than a squirt of foam from the splurge guns used by the hitmen, and while the story has now real depth there are several song and dance scenes which bring the best out of the cast, ages ranging from nine to 19.

 And, just like in the professional theatre, this production has a show-stopper - little Travis Blake-Hall, playing Fizzy, a sweeper-up at Fat Sam's speakeasy. His attempts to get an audition from the boss always earn the response 'Tomorrow', and he delivers the touching song, Tomorrow, with great aplomb. An up and coming Michael Jackson here.

 This is the ninth consecutive year of the Stage Experience project at the Alex, which gives talented youngsters the chance to show what they can do on a professional stage, and as ever they benefit from the impressive direction and choreography of Pollyann Tanner.

 There are fine performances from Dale Phillips, 18, from West Bromwich, playing Bugsy, and Wolverhampton's Imogen Wellsbury, 16, as his girlfriend, Blousey Brown, while Leah Walker caught the eye and ear as night club singer Tallulah. Kieran Palmer (Fat Sam) and Samuel Stone (Dandy Dan) also make strong contributions.

 The really big moments of the show come with Fat Sam's singers and dancers turning on the style.

 Bugsy Malone runs to Saturday night 27-08-11

Paul Marston

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