BWW Review: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY: Woody Allen's Roaring Twenties
Bullets Over Broadway
Written by Woody Allen, Based upon the Screenplay of the Film Bullets Over Broadway by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath; Original Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman, Recreated by Jeff Whiting; Music Director, Robbie Cowan; Based on Original Scenic Design, Jason Ardizzone-West; Based on Original Costume Design, William Ivey Long; Lighting Design, Richard Latta; Sound Design, Ken Goodwin; Music Adaptation & Additional Lyrics, Glen Kelly; Orchestrations, Doug Besterman; Animals Trained by William Berloni; Production Stage Manager, Jason Brouillard
CAST: John Paul Almon, ReEd Campbell, Jemma Jane, John Rochette, Kenny Morris, Michele Ragusa, Bridget Elise Yingling, Vincent Pastore, Sally Struthers, Minnie; Ensemble: Blaire Baker, Jake Corcoran, Elizabeth Dugas, Carissa Fiorillo, Dan Higgins, Justin Jutras, Patrick Lavallee, Will Mann, BrIan Martin, Vanessa Mitchell, Corinne Munsch, Kaylee Olson, Joey Ortolani, Kelly Peterson, Lexie Plath, Ian Saunders
Performances through July 29 at Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St. (Rte. 1), Ogunquit, Maine; Box Office 207-646-5511 or www.OgunquitPlayhouse.org
Bullets Over Broadway brings Woody Allen's New Yorker sensibility to the seaside community of Ogunquit, Maine, along with a coterie of thugs, hoofers, show people, and one adorable pug. Based on Allen's and co-writer Douglas McGrath's 1994 film of the same name, the musical incorporates old songs from the 1920s to ground the madcap action in the era of prohibition, when bathtub gin and gangsters with pistols and fedoras were equally prevalent. Jeff Whiting recreates Susan Stroman's original direction and outstanding choreography, and the amazing ensemble dancers tilt and whirl with foot-stomping abandon that resonates through the Ogunquit Playhouse.
The premise of Bullets is that pedestrian playwright David Shayne (John Rochette) bemoans his floundering career to his long-suffering girlfriend Ellen (Bridget Elise Yingling), who would rather see an overdue marriage proposal than a Broadway hit. Even as David professes his unwillingness to compromise his artistic integrity, his producer Julian Marx (Kenny Morris) calls with news that he's finally found a backer. Excitement is only slightly tempered by the fact that said backer is notorious mob boss Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore) who dangles the offer with the attached string that his girlfriend Olive (Jemma Jane) be given a part in the play. What could possibly go wrong!
That's where the conflict and the laughs are cultivated, as showgirl Olive is the farthest thing from a dramatic actress and impresario Valenti sends along his right hand henchman Cheech (ReEd Campbell) to ensure that no one messes with her part (role) or parts (as in private). Despite his initial reluctance to babysit for Olive, Cheech gets into the backstage atmosphere and offers his thoughts on the less-than-snappy script, eventually becoming Shayne's personal dramaturge. Meanwhile, as the director of the play, David has his hands full trying to turn Olive into an actress, keeping the leading man, Warner Purcell (John Paul Almon), away from both the donut cart and Olive, wrangling sassy trouper Eden Brent (Sally Struthers) and her dog, Mr. Woofles, and wooing Helen Sinclair (Michele Ragusa), the aging diva/leading lady who has his number and uses it to her advantage.
Admittedly, the book is lame and some of the characters are not as fleshed out as one might like, but the Ogunquit cast is filled with aces who raise the production above the level of the material. Even though we don't see much of Ellen, Yingling delivers in a big way on a pair of songs ("Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me," "I've Found a New Baby"). Fans of Struthers might be disappointed that her role is more cameo than supporting, but she belts out the first number in the second act ("There's a New Day Comin'") and showcases her exquisite comic timing to make the most of every eye roll and side glance assigned to Brent. The other "name" celebrity in the show, Pastore ("The Sopranos") revisits the role he originated in the Broadway production and really owns the character. He deftly conveys the tough guy with the soft spot for his girl, sweetly crooning his affection ("Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You?"). For her part, Jane is a triple threat who injects Olive with fire and ice to override the stereotypical nature of her character.
As the producer, Morris is more Leo Bloom than Max Bialystock, and Almon delightfully feasts on Purcell's one joke persona. Rochette carries much of the weight of the show on his shoulders, yet doesn't stand out quite as strongly as he should. Like his character, he is overshadowed by a strong woman (Ragusa) and a strong man (Campbell). Ragusa boasts a beautiful voice and captures the egocentricity of the classic leading lady. However, Campbell is the top gun in this starry shootout, inhabiting the heavy who follows any order his boss gives him (until he doesn't), expressing humor with a deadpan delivery, and absolutely killing it with his vocals. When he fronts his fellow gangsters for an athletic, yet artistic tap routine, it is the piece de résistance ("Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do").
Bullets Over Broadway benefits from terrific design elements that portray numerous venues - Nick's nightclub, behind the scenes at the theater, Helen's glamorous apartment, and a train station, among others - with appropriate lighting changes for each locale. Jason Ardizzone-West designed the sets based on the original scenic design, lighting is designed by Richard Latta, sound design is by Ken Goodwin, and original Tony-nominated costume designer William Ivey Long is on board with wonderful period designs. Music Director/Conductor is Robbie Cowan and he gets a big sound from his six musicians. The extraordinary chorus boys and girls who portray showgirls, flappers, gangsters, and Red Caps are: Blaire Baker, Jake Corcoran, Elizabeth Dugas, Carissa Fiorillo, Dan Higgins, Justin Jutras, Patrick Lavallee, Will Mann, BrIan Martin, Vanessa Mitchell, Corinne Munsch, Kaylee Olson, Joey Ortolani, Kelly Peterson, Lexie Plath, and Ian Saunders. Last, but not least, let me throw a bone to Minnie (Mr.Woofles) and Animal Trainer William Berloni. She never missed a cue.
Photo credit: Jay Goldsmith (Cast of Bullets Over Broadway)