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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Bullets Over Broadway
And you think to yourself, "Woody, oh Woody, that paycheck you cashed better have included a hell of a lot of zeroes." We're talking, naturally, about Woody Allen, the man who adapted his own 1994 screenplay for Bullets over Broadway: The Musical..
Allen's name may be above the title, but Allen's credit bio is barely a blip in the Bullets program. In a way, that's fitting, since the randy broadness of this musical has director-choreographer Susan Stroman's imprint all over it. In the non-Equity touring version of Bullets, Stroman's direction, choreography and several of the design elements have been recreated by assistant directors.
The result is a grab bag. Visually splendid and conducted with musical panache by music director Robbie Cowan, Bullets careens between high camp fun and over-the-top bloat. Someone might have reminded these performers to take a breath and trust that the source material could generate laughs and delight without this heavy-handed vaudevillian overlay.
The story mirrors the film. Mob boss Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino) bankrolls the Broadway debut of up-and-coming writer David Shayne (Michael Williams) in exchange for Shayne's casting Valenti's dimbulb and talentless girlfriend Olive Neal (Jemma Jane) in a role, any role. With essentially no choice in the matter, David caves. The rest of the cast includes compulsively snacking leading man Warner Purcell (Bradley Allan Zarr), quirky character actress Eden Brent (Rachel Bahler) and Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton) an aging diva who has recently attained greater notoriety for being an adulteress and a drunk than for her acting.
Olive, who has a grating voice as well as the thespian ability of an armadillo, comes with a bodyguard. That would be Nick's top hit man, Cheech (Jeff Brooks) who, after sitting around the rehearsal long enough, starts making suggestions that improve David's play. The already histrionic David isn't entirely thrilled that an uneducated ape like Cheech proves a savvier playwright than he is, but David's angst is somewhat soothed by the affair he begins with Helen. The show must go on, right? David's girlfriend Ellen (Hannah Rose DeFlumeri) is a stand-by-her-man type, but she badly wants to get married and/or go back to Pittsburgh.
The action moves from alleyways to rooftops, from out-of-town tryouts to the Belasco Theatre. There is no new music. Allen, Stroman and music adaptor Glen Kelly have worked era-specific tunes by the likes of Andy Razaf, Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Cahn, Cole Porter, Porter Grainger, Perry Bradford, Milton Ager and Joe Young into the plot.
The songs are staged as production numbers with varying degrees of splash. Choreographer Clare Cook and her leggy chorines the Atta-Girls give the proceedings some sizzle and William Ivey Long's costumes are across-the-board impressive (yep, even those living hot dogs). The gangster ballet, led by Brooks's Cheech, is a show-stopper.
In its film version, Bullets over Broadway wasn't the kind of tale that especially needed theatrical bombast. A playwright's desperation could be palpable enough without the monotonous and unending schtick of Michael Williams's David to drive home the point. Allen's films tend to go for subtle, less flamboyant humor, but, with or without the author's blessing, the order here was clearly "make it big."
Brooks earns many laughs, making Cheech a palookah with a poetic soul. Jane nails most of Olive's humor, demonstrating that it is no easy feat to convincingly play a bimbo. Stratton and Bahler make nice work of two rather different theatrical divas.
All in all, here's wishing the entire Bullets team had had a Cheech to help keep things in line.