Bringing a musical to the Fringe is no mean feat, nor is coordinating a rabble of small children. Full credit to the director and musical director for having accomplished both of these and for producing a particularly well-costumed show.
As someone who’d never seen Bugsy Malone, I wasn't sure what to expect; it's about gangsters, right? Right. Luckily Portobello Youth Theatre's production was very skillful in its exposition of the plot, and this is perhaps its greatest strength: the underworld activities of Fat Sam and Dandy Dan, their mob war, the entanglement of Bugsy in these escapades and his romance with Blousy Brown were made very clear with some clever yet simple staging.
First and foremost, the actor playing Bugsy was an absolute gem and should be proud of himself for turning in such a magnificent performance. Besides having a stellar voice, the young man was charming and his performance compelling – his accent in particular was especially impressive; it was convincing and never dropped, which is true of most of those who attempted it. Fat Sam also deserves a special mention for her confident demeanour and punchy delivery.
Fizzy's voice was beautiful, although her face was sadly obscured by her janitor’s cap and she could have been given a little more to do in her second song, as the sweeping gets repetitive. Blousy could stand to have a little more confidence in her acting and singing voice, which could just steal the show if she would try to relax a little more on stage. Performing is meant to be fun and, especially with a light-hearted show such as this, that bears remembering. Most importantly, the children could all be encouraged to really sing out and fill the large space.
Ensemble numbers were unfortunately the weakest and let the show down significantly. It was a standard case of 'any-note-above-speaking-pitch-gets-head-voiced', so the ends of most phrases floated away and disappeared. This was disappointing, since many of the cast had such wonderful singing voices.
As far as stagecraft goes, a certain amount of shuffling is inevitable and general kerfuffle permissible with children's shows; however, beyond this, the simple choreography frequently looked under-rehearsed and, consequently, several of the girls looked unenthusiastic or struggled to remember what they were supposed to be doing. The single flat comprising the show's backdrop, oscillating between “Fat Sam's” and a brick wall, could do with some sanding or a good coat of oil, as the noise was a grating distraction and some serious work needs to be done on learning the lyrics of the ensemble numbers.
The show is certainly not without merit and the young cast not short on talent. Unfortunately I couldn't award any more stars when I've seen much slicker shows – and children's ones at that – at the Fringe. If you want a good chuckle and some adorably cute moments, though, you can't go far wrong with this.