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Bugsy Malone rehearsal diary: Week 1

First Published 25 March 2015, Last Updated 30 March 2015

Rising star choreographer Drew McOnie will be giving us the inside scoop on rehearsals for the much anticipated forthcoming production of Bugsy Malone, from splurge guns to speakeasy showstoppers. Week one and it’s time for a look at the set and a trip to legendary fight director Kombat Kate’s boxing ring…

The beginning of rehearsals is an exciting and daunting time… and you don’t get much more exciting AND daunting than beginning to rehearse the iconic Bugsy Malone. Not least because of its use of young people as its key storytelling device.

Back in December, casting for the production was all about working with our brilliant casting team to find some of the country’s most talented young people. We were looking for performers with a balance of natural skills, established technique, tremendous personalities and potential; potential that we as a creative team with the director, Sean Holmes, could encourage and develop through rehearsals.

That pre-Christmas search led us to our company of 35 nine to 25-year-olds, and over two months later we arrive at the Lyric Hammersmith for the first day of rehearsals and our first day together as a company – sigh of relief, everybody gets on marvellously!

The first day is filled with a model box showing by our designer, Jon Bausor; a meet and greet with Sir Alan Parker [the director of the iconic 1976 film] himself; and a chance to say hello to the Lyric staff. Then we go straight into a read-through of the script and working on the show’s first big number Fat Sam’s Grand Slam – a number based in the Charleston style.

The first day soon snowballs into a full week of rehearsals where we assess and establish where everyone is at with their training and confidence levels, and we start to help them gel in this new exciting theatrical world.

In our production we are sort of starting from scratch with the dance breaks. The fantastic songs don’t have existing breaks, so I get to work closely with our musical director, Phil Bateman, and together we are crafting and discovering ways of performing the numbers that have been previously sung by adults’ voices (in the film), but are now being given a fresh approach with young voices, and structuring them into musical stage numbers. For Fat Sam’s Grand Slam we are working with an exciting mix of both male and female performers from the company.

Towards the end of the first week we head to 12 Rounds Boxing in Clapham with fight director Kate Waters, our ensemble and the actor playing Leroy (Hammed Animashaun, who joins the company straight from the Lyric’s Secret Theatre Company). The afternoon was spent training with a professional coach and developing the movement vocabulary for So You Wanna Be A Boxer, which is another very exciting number that I can’t wait for us to get started on in the rehearsal room. In the boxing gym I’m listening to the rhythms and looking at the focus of a boxer, and I start to realise the similarities between boxing and dance, all of which gets my brain buzzing with excitement and ideas. And so the collaboration amongst the team continues as we build the dance arrangements for that number as well.

I can’t wait for the next week of rehearsals when we’ll break the back of more numbers with the same level of excitement and energy which has been so evident over this past week.

Bugsy Malone plays at the Lyric Hammersmith from 11 April. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website. You can also watch a video from the boxing workshop via the video tab at the top of this article.

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