West London's Lyric Hammersmith has re-opened, after a £20m redevelopment, with a brand-new wing that's devoted to fostering the creativity of young people, and its grand main theatre — mostly untouched — is proof of the pudding, or at least whatever it is that explodes, smelling of strawberry Angel Delight, out of the splurge guns of the new stage production of Bugsy Malone that is currently hitting the theatrical bulls-eye there.
This is, of course, the irresistible 1976 British film musical that reignited the dormant British film industry nearly 40 years ago. Stage versions have become a staple of companies like the National Youth Music Theatre (who have previously presented it at this very theatre back in 1997 and at the West End's Queen's Theatre that starred a young Sheridan Smith), while an earlier West End version was previously done at the Her Majesty's back in pre-Phantom days in 1983.
But I'm not sure it has ever been done with quite so skilful a blend of a professional young adult ensemble company, mixed with a rotating cast of even younger principals, as it is being done with now. Nor with as much as heartfelt sincerity and real theatrical know-how.
The show is famously a pastiche, pie-in-your-face (instead of bullets) recreation of gang warfare films, shot through (in every sense) with a strutting wit and poignancy thanks to the fact that child actors play the adult characters throughout. Here, as two rival gangs fight out a turf war in Chicago, the innocence of childhood games is juxtaposed with very adult realities. Usually, these shoot-outs end in death; here, they're just messy explosions of dessert cream.
And we lap it up, thanks to the irrepressible energy of the kids performing it, and the bright tunefulness of Paul Williams's insistently memorable score. The show is a kind of pint-sized Guys and Dolls — though obviously not in that show's league in terms of construction — and director Sean Holmes and his infinitely resourceful choreographer Drew McOnie animate it as effectively as they might Guys and Dolls itself.
These guys and these dolls are truly something special here, brimming with character and invention. The dance routines, in particular, are thrillingly executed - a particular highlight is 'So You Wanna Be a Boxer", which marries exhilarating dance steps to animate a sport that is all about movement, too.
Jon Bauser's sets also channel a real theatricality to turn it into a backstage musical as well that puts the Lyric Hammersmith and its vibrant community of young actors back in business as one of London's liveliest, most youthful theatres.
"No beating about Shepherd’s Bush, this Hammersmith Bugsy Malone is a blast - a triumphant return for the stage version of Alan Parker’s adored 1976 film-musical."
Dominic Cavendish for The Daily Telegraph
"The good thing about the show is that, aided by Jon Bausor’s design, it has a vaudevillian bounce denied to Parker’s movie. But, while I may well be in a minority of one, I found something resistible about its desperate desire to be loved."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"The pacing of the first half doesn’t feel quite right at the moment, and I can’t help wondering if the show may appeal less to kids than to nostalgic parents. But you’d have to be stony-hearted not to appreciate this celebration of young talent — just about the perfect way to reopen the Lyric after its £20 million refurbishment."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard