Thursday, April 24, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway

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.

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
--Sexually suggestive lyrics, moves and props

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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