Touring – reviewed at the Alexandra Palace Theatre, London
There’s an overwhelming beauty and history to Alexandra Palace, originally built in 1873, and rebuilt in 1875 after a fire. Then home to a concert hall, theatre, circus, racetrack, boating lake, and dining. In 1935 it became the home of the BBC’s first public television service, with its distinctive radio and television mast that is still working and rises out of the Grade II listed building.
Despite efforts to convert and development the site in to a leisure complex, it remains partially derelict. The ice skating rink installed in 1990 still operates, but it wasn’t until 2004, after almost 70 years that performances in the theatre resumed with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2013, and restoration work to the East Court, the theatre reopened officially in 2018 as a flexible performance space.
The Victorian theatre is now exhibited with its exposed walls described as its “arrested decay look”, the space has been upgraded and fitted for theatre and music events to operate with full production. The auditorium is flexible, with seating arranged to suit the events, or removed entirely for standing concerts. It has a charm from the moment you enter and is instantly atmospheric.
Alexandra Palace has become a home to Alex Parker and his various staged concerts, including Sunset Boulevard starring Mazz Murray that I watched last there last year.
When I heard that the touring production of the Lyric Hammersmith’s Theatre production of Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone The Musical, was going to stop at Ally Pally for six weeks over Christmas and New Year, I became very excited that I would finally get to see this version of the classic musical in such an appropriately styled venue.
Originally created as a gangster musical comedy film in 1976, with a cast of child actors playing adults and featuring a young Jodie Foster. The film is a child friendly gangster movie spoof substituting machine guns for splurge guns that fire whipped cream.
It was adapted into a stage show that opened in the West End in 1983 featuring a young Catherine Zeta-Jones. The cast performed their own songs on stage, where in the film they were dubbed by adult voices.
In this production at Alexandra Palace, the vocals also belong entirely to the talented child actors.
Bugsy Malone the Musical was revived in 1997 starring Sheridan Smith and Jamie Bell. A new revival then re-opend the Lyric Hammersmith in 2015 following its refurbishment and was nominated for the Oliver Award for best Musical Revival.
Directed by Sean Holmes and choreographed by Drew McOnie. Drew is one of my personal favourite choreographers working today. I first saw Drew’s work in 2013, when he choreographed Kiss of the Spiderwoman as the 3rd year showcase for Arts Educational Schools. The school that I went to.
Directed by Nikolai Foster, it showcased Danny-Boy Hatchard and Genesis Lynea who would both go on to become huge stars of stage and screen.
Drew as a choreographer would go on to win the Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreography for In the Heights in 2016 and was nominated for the same award in 2017 for the ground-breaking production of Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. A production that is still touring North America.
As a director, I followed Drew’s career beginning with Strictly Ballroom which I saw both in its original production at Leeds Playhouse and then followed by its West End run.
In 2017, Drew directed The Wild Party, the first production to open The Other Palace.
In 2018, I visited New York where Drew directed the epic King Kong on Broadway.
Drew has most recently been choreographer on the upcoming film Greatest Days based on the Take That Musical The Band.
Drew is a truly visionary, contemporary choreographer, whose work breaks moulds and redefines theatre, often reinvigorating classic pieces his style is always original and distinctive.
In Bugsy Malone the Musical, it’s a joy to see Drew’s early choreography that stands as a tribute to his body of work. Within the show you can see the flourishes that would carve out his unique style that set him onto his incredible career.
Much can be the same for the seven incredible child actors billed as the ‘Unders’ who play the majority of the principle cast. It’s an early indicator for many of them, I’m sure, as ones to look out for. There’s no doubt many, like Jodie Foster and Catherine Zeta-Jones will go on to carve out incredible careers having started out in this show.
The talent of these kids is astounding, that when mixed along side the ‘Overs’ the thirteen adult performers who make up the ensemble, it is hard to distinguish which is which.
Watching the entire cast, I don’t know who I’m more jealous of, the child actors who are so talented, or the adults who look so young.
Although reluctant to take all the credit for himself, in an Instagram post Drew acknowledged the work and support of dance captain Will Lucas, children’s captain Esme Bacalla-Hayes and associate choreographer Leanne Pinder, as well as photographer Pamela Raith.
I was accompanied to watch the show by a friend named Mike, who told me that he once played Babyface as a child in a small regional production at the Middlesbrough Little Theatre, in my hometown.
Resisting the urge to sing along, this was Mike’s first visit to Alexandra Palace, which he agreed creates a beautiful and charmingly charismatic venue for this production.
The team have even taken the extent of redesigning the food and bar areas to be rebranded as Blousey Brown’s Bar, and Fat Sam’s Diner, selling hot dog’s and hot chocolates as well as drinks and sweets. I couldn’t resist getting one of each.
As with the original West End productions, they cycle through teams of three child actors who each share a principle role. Whether they saved the best for the gala performance, or they are simply all this good, I was blown away by the young cast that included Gabriel Payne as Bugsy, Mia Lakha as Blousey, Albie Snelson as Fat Sam, Jasmine Sakyiama as Tallulah, Aidan Oti as Fizzy, Cherry Mitra as Lena/Babyface and Desmond Cole as Dandy Dan.
I list their names, as I say because they are ones to watch, and no doubt in a few years time they will be leading casts across the West End.
Albie Snelson as Fat Sam in particular had such incredible comic timing, and as demonstrated by their encore, each of these kids were pitch perfect and have impeccable voices.
The adults consists of Mohamed Bangura, Alicia Belgarde, Alisha Capon, Jessica Daugrida, Luchia Moss, Lucy Young, Georgia Pemberton, Marcus Billany, Kalifa Burton, Rory Fraser, Andile Mabhena, Luke Mills, Thomas Walton, who each blend seamlessly into the production, which is truly testament to the casting and talents across of everyone across the production.
The show is high energy, with slick choreography and staging, with a set beautifully designed by Jon Bausor, who has also done a fantastic job creating the minutiae replica costumes of the era.
As I was reminded just this week when a friend posted a photo from her daughter’s nativity performance, that she had captioned “In my opinion the best presentation of a Nativity camal”, Christmas is about the kids, and although across the country regional theatres are churning out celebrity packed pantos, for an alternative show to watch this Christmas, Bugsy Malone the Musical at Ally Pally, is the perfect festive destination.
Performances until Sunday 15 January 2023
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