BWW Review: Unexpectedly Entertaining BULLETS OVER BROADWAY Spray Like Confetti
Bullets Over Broadway The Musical/book by Woody Allen/based on his screenplay co-written with Douglas McGrath/music adoption and additional lyrics by Glen Kelly/originally directed & choreographed by Susan Stroman/choreography recreated by Clare Cook/direction recreated by Jeff Whiting/Pantages/through January 24
As Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton) holds her hand over playwright David Shayne's (Michael Williams) mouth (picture left), fans of the 1994 film Bullets Over Broadway are bound to chuckle as they remember the famously unforgettable line spoken by the movie's Helen Sinclair Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, "Don't speak!" Weist, Jennifer Tilly as Olive and Chaz Palminteri as Cheech stole the brilliant film, so when I heard a couple of years ago that they were rehashing this for a Broadway musical, my reaction was "Sacrilege! Why? Don't tamper with perfection!" Well, they didn't listen to me, obviously, as the musical went forward, and for some sketchy reasons, was a flop on Broadway. Let me tell you, as reluctant as I was to see the musical now onstage at the Pantages through January 24, I am glad I did, for it is actually quite good, with mostly sparkling performances, ingenious choreography recreated from Susan Stroman's original, fabulous costumes by William Ivey Long...and it's faithful to the film. No one dared to touch Woody Allen's uncannily sharp plot, dialogue and laugh lines. Yes, it could have an original score, but what is accomplished with the old standards aiding in moving the story forward, kind of like in Mamma Mia, works damn well. It's fun ear and eye-filling entertainment!
I am not going to rehash the whole story other than to mention the basic issues of the characters. Nouveau playwright David Shayne's play is produced on Broadway by mafioso Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino), and Shayne must give a role to Valenti's untalented girlfriend Olive (Jemma Jane). Olive is a squeaky-voiced, dumb blonde Lena Lamont-type from Singin' In the Rain who has danced in joints but has no legit stage experience. Shayne can already feel that he is selling out by allowing his play to be produced in such a tactless manner. He has a nice steady, intelligent girlfriend Ellen (Hannah Rose Deflumeri), but Broadway diva Helen Sinclair, who is cast in the lead role, puts the make on him, and he is swept off his feet. Further complications arise when Cheech (Jeff Brooks), one of Valenti's hoods, is assigned as bodyguard to Olive. It's amusing, as she totally gets on his nerves. Cheech pictures himself a writer, hates the way Shayne has written the play, as well as how carelessly Olive is playing the psychiatrist. All hell breaks loose...let the fun begin.
The entire cast is outstanding except for one actress who insists on overdoing her role. Jemma Jane is perhaps terrific in the right part, but here she forces everything that Olive says and does to the point where her over.the.top mannerisms and voice are irritating instead of funny. There's a fine line, and Jane crosses it much too far...and the director has permitted her to do it. Stratton is divine as Helen Sinclair. She has great posturing and vocal mannerisms. Brooks too is just right as Cheech. His smug streetwise smarts make him obnoxiously funny...and his tapping with the rest of the gangsters is to die for. Williams pushes a bit as Shayne, but overall does not cross the line. Other standouts are Deflumeri as Ellen - beautiful singing voice, and Rachel Bahler as the meticulously fussy actress Eden Brent with her little pet dog constantly in tow. Bradley Allan Zarr is also hilarious as the over rambunctious, overeating leading man Warner Purcell. Kudos as well to Rick Grossman as agent Julian Marx and to every dancer onstage: the gangsters, the flappers. the Red Caps et al who tap their behinds off.
It's always nice when you are surprised at what you see. I went expecting nothing and came away delighted and... humming the utterly senseless "Yes, We Have No Bananas" from the finale. By the way, "The Hot Dog Song" is uproarious, and here Jemma Jane does a sexy song and dance. Go see through January 24!