‘Bullets Over Broadway’ is a major misfire
The Woody Allen musical has more fizzle than sizzle
Woody Allen’s effervescent 1994 movie “Bullets Over Broadway” scored big with the Academy Awards crowd, winning a best supporting actress Oscar for Dianne Wiest and six more nominations, including one for the Allen- Douglas McGrath screenplay.
So it was hardly a stretch when some of the brightest talents on Broadway, where movies are regularly reborn as musicals, took a stab at the story of a struggling playwright who gets tangled up with a mobster and his untalented girlfriend.
The result? Some glittering, entertaining moments, but overall more fizzle than sizzle.
The touring version of the 2014 musical, which has a book by Allen and a score made up of vintage Jazz Age songs, features a talented cast that works very hard to sell the kind of show-biz magic that Tony Awardwinning director-choreographer Susan Stroman pulled off far better in “The Producers.” Still, “Bullets” seems to slay the enthusiastic audience at the Kravis Center, where the show runs through Sunday.
With Jeff Whiting recreating Stroman’s direction and Clare Cook her inventive choreography, “Bullets Over Broadway” follows the travails of Pittsburgh-born playwright David Shayne (Michael Williams) as he tries to crack the Great White Way in 1929.
Producer Julian Marx (Rick Grossman) finds a tarnished “angel” in the person of Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino), a mobster who agrees to fully finance a Broadway run for David’s “God of Our Fathers.” But Nick’s largesse comes at a price: David must agree to cast the gangster’s chorus girl squeeze, Olive (Jemma Jane), in a major role. Sure, she’s a bleached-blond bombshell, but she’s also strident, a terrible actress, demanding and dumb (other than that, she’s a charmer).
As it progresses toward its out-of-town tryout in Boston and its opening on what producer Marx calls “BroadWAY,” David’s show gets secret rewrites by Cheech (Jeff Brooks), a mobster assigned by Nick to keep Olive from getting too friendly with her male cast mates. Inevitably, romantic complications ensue.
Olive gets flirty with leading man Warner Purcell (Bradley Allen Zarr), whose gluttony gets him to blimp territory by opening night on Broadway. And marriage-phobic David, who has a lovely girlfriend named Ellen (Hannah Rose DeFlumeri), falls under the spell of leading lady Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton), a Norma Desmond-like diva who gets her way conversationally by pressing her fingers to the other person’s lips and uttering a sultry, “Don’t speak.”
Allen’s book is surprisingly clichéd, rarely truly funny and for the most part lacking in the zingers that a Woody Allen fan can recognize even hearing them for the first time. “Broad” doesn’t begin to describe the show’s weak script.
Some dandy songs, including “Up a Lazy River,” “Let’s Misbehave” and “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You,” give the talented cast a chance to shine vocally, and Stroman’s whiz-bang choreography is crazily creative (tap- dancing mobsters, anyone?). But the misses are cringe-inducing, most notably “The Hot Dog Song,” which makes you long for the double entendre finesse of Bessie Smith.
Kudos to the show’s hardworking actors, who look swell in William Ivey Long’s gorgeous costumes. Jane makes Olive every inch as annoying as the character is supposed to be, and Corvino’s rich voice makes you wish Nick sang more often. Brooks is sly and likable as Cheech. Stratton is ultratheatrical as Helen. DeFlumeri is a most appealing Ellen, particularly when she turns the tables on her cheating boyfriend. As David, Williams is low-key and usually flustered, the least vibrant figure in a musical overloaded with colorful characters.
In “Bullets Over Broadway,” the mob guys don’t miss, whether they’re hoofing or taking out a victim. The same can’t be said of this movie-turned-musical.
“Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical” will play through Sunday at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. through Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $26-$76. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org.
The wise guys shoot and tap-dance in "Bullets Over Broadway" at the Kravis Center.