BWW Review: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY at Ogunquit Playhouse
It seems, even mobsters don't like to spend all their summer in the city heat. This July, a talented gang of old-school ruffians has taken over the Ogunquit Playhouse.
"Bullets Over Broadway," a musical based on the 1994 Woody Allen film of the same title, is filling the venerable theater with song, dance, comedy and loud gunfire (of a pretend sort, of course).
It's a big, broad, brash, in-your-face kind of show about a panic-prone Jazz-Age playwright who gets involved with folks on the wrong side of the law when they agree to finance his show. Naturally, there are strings, not to mention ambitious hit men, attached that make this backstage story a fun trip down a Broadway full of colorful characters.
As the show opens, a young playwright must feature the lead gangster's less-than-qualified girlfriend in the show as part of the financing deal. When her surly bodyguard Cheech begins to make script changes which, the author hates to admit, improve the show, things get even more complicated- and dangerous.
Star power is provided for this lively production from both Vincent Pastore, from the original Broadway production of this show as well as The Sopranos and Goodfellas, and Sally Struthers, of All in the Family fame, who's become a perrenial favorite on the Ogunquit stage.
Pastore grumbles and growls as the mob boss and sings with a rough sincerity on the classic "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You." Struthers, her little dog never far away, to the delight of the crowd, puts a gritty passion into "There's a New Day Comin'" and adds inimitable comic touches throughout.
John Rochette plays the put-upon lead as part nebbish, part nerd. Physically recoiling from both hardened criminals and petulant thespians, he contorts his features in increasingly funny mugging as the premiere of his character's play nears. His vocals hit the mark in solo moments, including "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," and especially in duets with his polar-opposite love interests Ellen and Helen.
ReEd Campbell makes the most of his mob "gorilla" with a surprising feel for theater writing. His comically ominous takes on "Up a Lazy River" and "Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do" set one end of the stakes for the show within the show.
Jemma Jane has the ditsy, talentless girlfriend Olive down perfectly, adding insistently insipid comments and singing and dancing with abandon in such over-the-top numbers as the "Hot Dog Song." She is at the forefront in comically establishing the raunchier extremes of the show. John Paul Almon, as her increasingly corpulent love interest, joins her for a delightfully naughty "Let's Misbehave" that is one of a few "smaller" gems that please as much as some of the show's flashier numbers.
Michelle Ragusa gives her tippling diva a situational heart of gold as she tunefully informs the smitten author that "I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle." Her work with the patiently persuasive producer played by Kenny Morris on "They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me" established her talent for melodically pulling her character right out of the lyrics of a song.
Bridget Elise Yingling sneaks up on a strong performance as the hometown sweetheart. Amid all the supercharged characters around her, she scores in the second act on "I've Found a New Baby."
Tap dancing gangsters and Charleston-crazy chorus girls, all in period costumes, vie for attention on a stage that features multiple levels and revolving elements to catch the eye and provide a sense of movement for the fictional show on its way to the Great White Way.
Jeff Whiting, who worked on the original production of this musical, has noted his hope to convey the show's message that artistic compromise, though sometimes necessary, can be costly. Situated in a long gone but not theatrically unfamiliar era of hams, divas, floozies, tough guys and troupers, all enlivened by delightfully enduring popular songs, this production delivers it with a bang.
Reviewed: July 9 (matinee); continues through July 29
Contact: 207-646-5511; ogunquitplayhouse.org
Photos by Gary Ng (top) & Jay Goldsmith (bottom)