Review Roundup: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY Opens - All the Reviews!
Producers Letty Aronson and Julian Schlossberg present the world premiere production of the brand new musical comedy Bullets Over Broadway, written by Woody Allen and based on the screenplay by Allen and Douglas McGrath for the 1994 film. Directed and choreographed by five-time Tony Award-winner Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway officially opens tonight, April 10, 2014 at The St. James Theatre (246 West 44th Street).
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY stars Brooks Ashmanskas (The Producers) as "Warner Purcell," Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominee Zach Braff ("Scrubs," Garden State) as "David Shayne,"Nick Cordero (Rock of Ages) as "Cheech," Tony Award nominee Marin Mazzie (Passion; Ragtime; Kiss Me, Kate) as "Helen Sinclair," Vincent Pastore ("The Sopranos") as "Nick Valenti," Betsy Wolfe (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) as "Ellen," Lenny Wolpe (The Drowsy Chaperone) as "Julian Marx," Heléne Yorke (Grease) as "Olive Neal" and Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba (Contact) as "Eden Brent."
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY features a design team of Broadway veterans including Santo Loquasto (scenic design), William Ivey Long (costume design), Donald Holder (lighting design), Peter Hylenski(sound design), Paul Huntley (wig and hair design), William Berloni (animal training), Glen Kelly (music supervision and adaptation / additional Lyrics), Doug Besterman (orchestrations) and Andy Einhorn (music direction/conductor and vocal arrangements).
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY tells the story of an aspiring young playwright (Braff) newly arrived on Broadway in 1920's New York who is forced to cast a mobster's (Pastore) talentless girlfriend (Yorke) in his latest drama in order to get it produced.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Some things were never meant to be shouted through megaphones. On the basis of "Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical," the occasionally funny but mostly just loud new show that opened at the St. James Theater on Thursday night, that would include the wit of Woody Allen...Yet while the movie was a helium-light charmer, this all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing reincarnation is also all but charm-free...What registered as wistfully absurd on screen has been pushed into grotesqueness. Sex talk that came across with a shrug and a glint resurfaces as a broad neon leer. And the moral ambivalence of its central character feels inappropriately queasy in this heightened, brightened context...Characters who were deftly drawn cartoons on screen have been turned into gargoyles by a desperately hard-working cast.
David Cote, Time Out New York: "The artist can be forgiven anything if he produces great art," says one of Woody Allen's proxies (and let's face it, they're all proxies) in Bullets Over Broadway. The maxim is aimed at grossly idealistic playwright David Shayne (Zach Braff), whose Broadway debut is being bankrolled by trigger-happy mobsters. At the time that Allen's original movie came out-when news of his unseemly personal life was making headlines-the sentiment gained added resonance. Now it's 20 years later and Bulletshas returned as a delirious musical romp. Was the original film great art? Is this adaptation? No-so there's nothing to forgive. There is, however, plenty to enjoy-director-choreographer Susan Stroman at the top of her game with a toothsome cast and a gag-filled book surrounded by repurposed jazz standards. The show might be lightweight and nostalgic, but you can't deny its savvy craft and bursting showmanship: sexy chorines, Art Deco backdrops and sight gags galore. Who knew Broadway could still be this much fun?
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: How good can a jukebox musical be? As good as "Bullets Over Broadway," Woody Allen's new stage version of his 1994 film, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman ("The Producers"). The book is funny, the staging inventive, the cast outstanding, the sets and costumes satisfyingly slick. All that's missing is a purpose-written score, in place of which we get period-true arrangements of pop songs of the 1920s and '30s. Does that matter? It did to me-a lot-but I doubt that many other people will boggle over the absence of original songs from "Bullets Over Broadway." Except for a flabby finale, it has the sweet scent of a box-office smash.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: There's a ton of talent onstage in Bullets Over Broadway, evident in the leggy chorines who ignite into explosive dance routines, the gifted cast, the sparkling design elements and the wraparound razzle-dazzle of director-choreographer Susan Stroman's lavish production. So why does this musical, adapted by Woody Allen from his irresistible 1994 screen comedy about the tortured path of the artist, wind up shooting blanks? Flat where it should be frothy, the show is a watered-down champagne cocktail that too seldom gets beyond its recycled jokes and second-hand characterizations to assert an exciting new identity.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "Bullets Over Broadway" is the show everyone hoped would get those flickering Broadway lights blazing again. In certain wonderful ways -- Susan Stroman's happy-tappy dance rhythms, the dazzling design work on everything from proscenium curtain to wigs, and a fabulous chorus line of dancing dolls, molls and gangsters -- Woody Allen's showbiz musical is the answer to a Broadway tinhorn's prayer. Surprisingly, though, the book (from Allen's own screenplay for his 1994 film) is feeble on laughs, and certain key performers don't seem comfortable navigating the earthy comic idiom of burlesque. So, let's call it close -- but no cigar.
Linda Winer, Newsday: The last times Woody Allen wrote plays for Broadway, his single drama suggested he hadn't seen one since middle-period Arthur Miller and his comedies were a tired throwback to Neil Simon. But with "Bullets Over Broadway," his first Broadway musical, Allen has created an old-fashioned, madcap lark of a show that seems precisely where it belongs. Director-choreographer Susan Stroman is back in idea-crazy form in Allen's adaptation of his 1994 backstage-Broadway movie about gangsters and tootsies and self-serious thespians in the '20s. The show takes a while to hit its stride, feeling competent but mechanical at first, as if the job could only get done if everyone bellows and hard-sells the lamest jokes. But once inspiration strikes -- and it eventually does -- the smartly cast, good-looking production relaxes into the confidence of its own gleeful, high-gloss ridiculousness.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: Pastore is exceedingly funny, as is the delicious Marin Mazzie, who blows her way deliciously and fearlessly through the Dianne Wiest role in the film... Brooks Ashmanskas eats his way through the night as the gourmand-actor Warner Purcell, and Nick Cordero stays sandpaper dry, perhaps to a fault, as Cheech... And Lenny Wolpe holds down the normative character, the agent Julian Marx, whose job is to set up the funny lines of the wackos and keep the narrative moving. There are, for sure, times when "Bullets" is stymied by its lack of an original score, although the lyrics have been thoroughly subjugated to its comedic purpose, wittily so. The use of standards was not such a problem on film, since part of Allen's cinematic gestalt was to forge a gauzy comic tribute to a golden age of Broadway. But when you translate Allen and Douglas McGrath's backstage comedy to the Main Stem, somehow the Great American Songbook starts to feel a bit like a cop-out.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: The cardinal sin in adapting a Woody Allen film comedy for the stage is forcing the funny. So the creators of "Bullets Over Broadway the Musical," the sledgehammering act of period-tune-driven desperation that opened Thursday night at the St. James Theatre, have a whole lot to answer for. The sinners include Allen himself... and Susan Stroman, the Tony-winning director-choreographer ("The Producers") who amps up the material in uncomfortably vulgar fashion. (Yard-long phallus, anyone, for "The Hot Dog Song?") Except for the heretofore unheralded Nick Cordero, who plays Cheech, the goodfella with the soul of Euripides, no one emerges with a feather in their fedora. Not the hard-working Zach Braff, mugging his way through the ill-fitting role of handwringing nebbish; not the cartoonish Helene Yorke, overplaying the stock-variety floozy; not even the musical veteran Marin Mazzie, in a scenery-chewing turn as an operatically needy stage diva...
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: There's certainly much to savor in this gin fizz cocktail of a show, tossed back in the Art Deco glory of Prohibition-era New York. But the ostentatious flaws of this much-anticipated production, which opened at Broadway's St. James Theatre, make it difficult for me to hold my tongue...Backstage musicals bring out the best in director and choreographer Susan Stroman, and her production of "Bullets" has electricity that at times matches her high-voltage staging of "The Producers." Even when the jokes fall flat and the songs (all borrowed from the period, many revamped by Glen Kelly) seem incongruous, the show has the galloping vigor of a runaway hit, if few of the ecstatic peaks...Stroman's staging moves with an effervescent fluidity - gangsters and flappers glide by, each in high Cotton Club style - yet the book isn't as spry. Scenes that could be distilled into a few lines are belabored. For all the frenetic Jazz Age motion, the show feels dramatically sluggish.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Now open at the St. James Theatre, "Bullets Over Broadway" is a zany, old-fashioned spectacle that features the Broadway debut of actor-writer Zach Braff and a marvelous turn from three-time Tony nominee Marin Mazzie as an aging diva...While not without some curious choices, "Bullets" is certainly the best of the musicals to open on Broadway so far this season, though make note ... it's a new musical with old music...The mark of director-choreographer Stroman...is all over the deliciously escapist piece, which boasts showstoppers and glitzy costumes that would be right at home in a vaudeville revue... What's important here is this: Stroman's brand of showmanship and Allen's unparalleled wit go together, in the end, just like a hot dog and a roll.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: It's too bad that the comedy about a playwriting hit man is a bit of a miss. On the plus side, director and choreographer Susan Stroman's dance numbers pack sure-footed pizzazz. And the good-looking production depicts 1929 New York with wit and grace notes...But working in tandem with Allen, who adapted the screenplay of his Oscar-winning 1994 comedy while dealing with anything-but-amusing personal issues, Stroman doesn't match the zany, out-of-this-world wow factor of her collaboration with Mel Brooks on "The Producers"...Allen's showbiz and gangland eccentrics stiffen into cardboard when they're amplified from two to three dimensions. A sense of nuance and ahumanity goes missing. It doesn't help that key actors shoot blanks, including Zach Braff, of "Scrubs" fme, and Helene Yorke, of "Masters of Sex." Both need infusions of charm for their roles as a morally iffy writer and the tootsie ruining his play.
Matt Windman, AM New York: In an ideal universe, the new musical "Bullets Over Broadway," based on the 1994 Woody Allen film, would shut down for a few months so that a talented songwriter - perhaps David Yazbek ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" or the young team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ("A Christmas Story") - could pen an original score for it. To its credit, "Bullets Over Broadway" is mildly entertaining...Although the show contains flashy design elements, amusing one-liners and generally decent performances, the decision to use jazz standards from the 1920s and 1930s instead of an original, well-integrated score proves to be absolutely fatal. By pigeonholing these familiar tunes into the existing plot, they arrive randomly and have almost nothing to do with the characters or plot...Zach Braff works too hard at portraying the stressed-out playwright. His singing voice is pretty thin as well. On the other hand, Marin Mazzie is ideally cast as the grandly theatrical Sinclair, and Vincent Pastore of "The Sopranos" is effortlessly effective as Valenti.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Allen has pulled something of a Sylvester Stallone in his Broadway book-writer debut: His book never really abandons his screenplay sufficiently to reinvent itself for the theater. For most of the evening, some great dance numbers and many old tunes have simply be inserted into this tale of a young writer (Zach Braff) who willingly allows a mobster (Nick Cordero) to rewrite his play, much to the play's improvement..."Bullets," the musical, is loaded down with old ditties that wore out their welcome sometime during the run of "Arthur Godfrey Time" and only vaguely refer to Allen's story..."Bullets" on Broadway rarely breaks free of the movie, and fond memories keep taking us back to the original.
Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: "They go wild, simply wild, over me," sings Helen Sinclair, an ageing diva, in a deluded attempt to persuade David Shayne, a fledgling playwright, of her enduring appeal. Sinclair, portrayed by the wonderfully self-assured Marin Mazzie, is one of the reasons to see Bullets Over Broadway, the new musical birthed by Woody Allen from his 1994 movie of the same title. The Broadway show makes a Sinclair-sized effort to persuade us of the value of early-20th-century songs shoehorned into a 1929 setting. The attempt is intermittently enjoyable, extremely well crafted by the director/choreographer Susan Stroman, and progressively unthrilling.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: it's Stroman who makes this baby sing and dance, not just literally but spiritually. The playful wit and exuberance that were stifled by the material in her last Main Stemouting, Big Fish, are in full force here, and are supported by performers and designers (among the latter the great William Ivey Long, whose costumes are especially scrumptious) who seem to never run out of steam.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: It's Stroman's vision that will keep this cute, brashy ode to Broadway on Broadway for long to come. She has staged a truly deliciously vulgar scene sung to "The Hot Dog Song" that, let's put it bluntly, will not be making the Tony telecast. She has teamed up with Santo Loquasto's ambitious and lovely set designs to put a snazzy looking real car onstage and yet also make a train out of dancers dressed as red caps in white gloves. When she has mobsters in three-piece suits tap dance to "'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do," their masculine movements are a joy. When the play-within-the-musical is staged, the proscenium has real dancers posing like carved statues. It's all been so well thought out and executed, right down to its bouncy chairs and rotating houses. Stroman has the right to sing, as the title of one song goes "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You." When the critical reviews of the fictional play come out at the end of the show, the consensus must be the same about this fun, beautiful musical: "A work of art of the highest caliber."
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: "Bullets Over Broadway" is Stroman's second bite of the apple this season. In October, she directed and choreographed "Big Fish," a musical about the evolving relationship of a father and son. It wasn't the right show for her fizzy style. With "Bullets Over Broadway," she's gotten a perfect match. And the result couldn't be more joyful.
Matt Wolf, Telegraph: In the long and ongoing parade of movies-turned-stage musicals, none of Woody Allen's work has made that transition - until now. And of Allen's nearly 50 films to date, it makes sense that Bullets Over Broadway should first reach the destination referred to in its title. The film honours the theatre in all its vainglorious splendour, so why not bring Allen and Douglas McGrath's Oscar-nominated screenplay home, as it were?
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik