Lots of Song, Dance and Fun, but Bullets Misses Sure-Fire-Hit Target
By Lauren Yarger
The latest film-to-stage production takes a Woody Allen classic, Bullets Over Broadway, and brings it to Broadway with fabulous sets by Santo Loquasto, beautiful costumes by William Ivey Long and lots of old-fashioned, big musical numbers choreographed by director Susan Stroman.
While it's a lot of fun to watch, the musical's elements and some of the performances don't come together in sure-fire-hit form like they did for Stroman in The Producers, however.
Heading the cast are Karen Ziemba, Marin Mazzie, Nick Cordeiro, Vincent Pastore and Helen Yorke in this zany tale of gangsters and Broadway with a book by Allen and Douglas McGrath (who collaborated on the screenplay). The score is a compilation of songs and is not a new work in itself. Music Supervision, adaptation and additional lyrics are provided by Glen Kelly.
One of the show's biggest stars is its sets (lots of them) that almost become characters themselves as they stunningly participate in the choreography. They are creatively lighted by Donald Holder. The deco costumes indicative of the 1929 setting aren't hard to look at either. Long's numerous, shiny silver gowns for Mazzie are stunning.
It's the time of speakeasies and gangsters in New York like Nick Valenti (Pastore) who invest in Broadway shows so that their talentless girlfriends, like Olive Neal (Yorke), can star on stage. This is a bit overwhelming for playwright David Shayne (Zach Braff), who tells Producer Julian Marx (Lenny Wolpe) he is excited about getting his big break, but not happy that Olive massacres every line and wants a bigger part.
One consolation for Shayne is the inclusion in the cast of a couple of veteran stage stars: diva Helen Sinclair (Mazzie) and full-of-himself, overeating leading man Warner Purcell (Brooks Ashmanskas, who seriously made me laugh out loud every time he was on stage).
Valenti doesn't trust his girl on her own, so he assigns his main hit man Cheech (Cordero) to watch out for her during rehearsals. He ends up keeping a better eye on Shayne's troubled script, offering suggestions and rewrites before taking over completely. When Sinclair becomes attracted to the man writing the words, Shayne struggles with letting her know they're not his since he is falling in love with his star, despite having a fiance, Ellen (Betsy Wolfe), waiting for him back in Pittsburgh.
Shayne has to figure out what really is important -- hopefully before more bullets fly.
While Ashmanskas cracked me up with his over-dramatic antics and ever-larger-growing belly, none of the other performances stood out. Mazzie seems too over the top and too overwhelmed to pull Helen off. Ziemba, who plays a woman in Shayne's show, is underused (and has to share the stage with her cute little canine star Mr. Woofles played by Trixie, trained by William Berloni). I kept wondering what it would be like to see Ziemba play Helen.
The songs, including "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "Up a Lazy River," There'll Be Some Changes Made," and others don't stay with us. There was a dancing hotdog number, for instance. I remember the costumes, but have no idea how the tune went. Large-scale production numbers consistently wiped out the story.
While the elements don't come together to make a powerhouse musical, it is enjoyable to watch. There are worse ways to spend two hours and 45 minutes. I certainly found Brooks Ashmanskas entertaining.....
Bullets over Broadway shoots over at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. http://www.bulletsoverbroadway.com
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