Monday, April 21, 2014

Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical

Lots of gangland shootings take place in director/choreographer Susan Stroman’s Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical, but the most tragic killing of all is her murder of Woody Allen’s hilarious 1994 movie from which this Broadway musical, at the St. James Theatre, has been adapted.

The humor of the movie is too often overwhelmed by the musical numbers, which interrupt this crazy story of an unsuccessful playwright, David Shayne (Zach Braff, left in photo), who gets the backing for a Broadway production of one of his plays from a mob boss, Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore), who insists his dumb-as-a-post girl friend Olive Neal (Helene Yorke), a stripper who aspires to be an actress, be given a part.

I loved the movie and was happy to see it peak through from time to time. But just when I got involved, Stroman, a five-time Tony Award winner, would bring on a flashy dance number, many of which were reminiscent of her choreography in The Producers. (More dancing weiners.) The choreography wasn’t just unoriginal, it was tedious.

I had this same objection to the Broadway version of Ghost. In that case, the musical numbers came barreling on every time a tender moment occurred, thus squashing the charm of the movie.

Set in New York City in 1929, Bullets features songs drawn mainly from the 1920s American Songbook — with adaptations and additional lyrics by Glen Kelly — but I felt two shows were vying with each other — a musical program and a funny play. They didn’t mesh. Included are "Tain't Nobody's Bus'ness," "Running Wild," "Let's Misbehave," "I Found A New Baby.”

The tap dancing gangsters number was the standout of the musical part, largely because it featured Nick Cordero (right in photo) who did the best job of recreating the movie’s humor as Cheech, Olive’s thug of a body guard, who in typical Woody Allen fashion, ends up giving Shayne advice on how to rewrite his play and turns it into a hit.

I also liked Yorke’s Olive, but I did not like Marin Mazzie’s portrayal of the stage diva Helen Sinclair. She has a beautiful voice, but I found her performance to be large without being funny. It would be hard to compare with my memory of Dianne Wiest in her Academy Award-winning role in the film.

Allen wrote the musical’s book, as he had written the movie (with Douglas McGrath).

With 17 Broadway shows opening in these few hectic weeks known as voting season for theatre critics, it stands to reason they aren’t all going to be good, but I was really disappointed in this one, being a huge (for the most part) Woody fan. I would have liked more Woody Allen and less Susan Stroman.

My advice, order the movie and stay home.

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