Juvenile Delinquents : A Large but Small Cast Will Shoot the Works in 'Bugsy Malone'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Remember "Bugsy Malone," the eccentric Prohibition-era film from 1975 with an all-child cast, including a very young Jodie Foster?

That musical mobster spoof was adapted for the stage by its cinematic creator, Alan Parker. Opening today at the Moulton Theatre in Laguna Beach, it's the Laguna Youth Theatre's season grand finale, an offbeat, let's-put-on-a-show extravaganza for ages 4 and up.

"This is the most expensive show we've ever produced," said director Joe Lauderdale. "We literally use the entire (theater), from one side to the other and out through the audience, even up in the balcony.

"We have about 40 cast members--the largest cast we've ever had--and it's a very big show, set-wise. It's not quite cartoonish, but the perspective is a little off, and some buildings are sized so the kids look adult-sized in them.

"We're using rolling platforms and wagons and wing pieces that move in and out--we have five units that track on and off," he said. "The set has to function as indoors, outdoors, city streets, a speak-easy and people's houses. We just decided to go as far out as we could in making it look lavish."

(A $5,000 grant from Mazda Motor of America, as well as a donation from the group's Playhouse Parents support organization, plus the Target Stores' season-long support, made the lavishness possible, according to Lauderdale.)

There were also smaller details to get just right. The gangsters, according to the script, carry weapons called "splurge" guns and use them--a lot. The results, are, well, sticky . Just how sticky, Lauderdale learned firsthand.

"The splurge guns have been a challenge," he said with a laugh, because while the script describes the guns themselves, there is "nothing about the substance they used in them."

So, Lauderdale tested the ammunition: he spent an afternoon getting "splurged" with shaving cream and Cool Whip.

Lauderdale said his "favorite element" of the show is that, "although it's professionally produced, there's a feel of kids getting together and putting on a show."

In the movie version, adults sang while the child stars lip-synced the Paul Williams score. "In this one," Lauderdale said, "all the kids sing and dance."

The young actors (ages 8 to 16) were chosen more for their singing than dancing talent, Lauderdale said, "but we've worked a long time getting them to be better dancers and they've really pulled through."

Meanwhile, "Bugsy" set and light designer Robert Smith, who did the mainstage Playhouse production of "Big River" and Youth Theatre shows "Prodigy" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," had to plan way ahead: there would only be a four-day turnaround from "Big River" to "Bugsy."

"We knew we had to go from one large musical into another," Smith said, "and that the only way we could do it and not shortchange the children's production was to piggyback designs."

So, Smith "hid" the framework of "Bugsy" under the "Big River" set; the lighting design for both shows "is basically the same."

James Bryant, 12, a San Juan Capistrano resident who plays the title role, has met some challenges of his own. This is his first stage production, and the rehearsal process has been "long and hard."

"But it's been fun meeting all my new friends," he said, "and I've got a whole bunch of relatives coming to see it."

His favorite part of the show?

"I like the pie fight--splurge going everywhere and the flour bombs and the seltzer bottles getting sprayed on everyone."

The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre production of "Bugsy Malone" will play at the Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Performances today, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Monday-June 21, 7:30 p.m.; June 22, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; June 23, 2 p.m. (Signed performance for the hearing impaired, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.) Tickets: $8, adults; $5, children 13 and under. Information: (714) 494-8021.

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