BWW Interview: Jemma Jane About Her Role as Olive in the BULLETS OVER BROADWAY Tour
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY was a 1994 screwball movie comedy, written by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath, and directed by Allen, before it became a screwball Broadway musical comedy in 2014, written by Allen and directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. The production, which consists of songs adapted from those popular in the Roaring Twenties, was nominated for six Tony awards.
Now, BULLETS is on its first national tour. It will stop at Riverside's Fox Performing Arts Center for one show on the evening of Wednesday, January 27, 2016, after a run at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre from January 5th through the 24th.
The convoluted story involves David Shayne, a young man in 1928 who wants to get his show produced on Broadway. When he can't secure traditional financing, he makes a deal with the devil, in this case a mobster named Nick Valenti. Valenti agrees to finance the production if David agrees to allow Valenti's girlfriend, Olive Neal, to perform in the show. The downside of the deal is that Olive can neither act nor sing. The upside is that her bodyguard, Cheech, keeps feeding David rewrites that drastically improve the story. Unfortunately, David refuses to give mobster Cheech any credit for his contributions. Things only get worse from there as opening night approaches.
Broadway World conducted an email interview with Jemma Jane, a native of Australia and a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, about her role as the insufferable Olive Neal.
Broadway World: You play Olive, who is supposed to be an awful singer and dancer. How does a talented, trained singer and dancer such as yourself learn to do "awful" in a way that will keep the audience laughing, rather than cringing?
Jemma Jane: Throughout the process, the most important thing for my director and me has always been to play Olive from a place of truth and honesty. Olive is determined and open and so very true to herself and I find that endearing, I've loved her from the start; I think that this is Olive's saving grace on that front. There was no doubt front the beginning that Olive had to be irritating; especially in her voice, and so this was something I definitely had a lot of fun playing with but the important thing has been that you develop a soft spot for Olive and so you forgive her voice, you forgive her crassness because there's an almost naïve or endearing way about her. The general audience response that I get is that the voice is like "nails on a chalkboard" and yet they somehow still love her and they feel bad for her fate in the end. Whether they laugh or cringe; or do both, the important thing for me has always been that they see her as a real person and they feel something for her, if I achieve that much, I have done my job.BWW: The vapid girlfriend of a 20's gangster is usually portrayed as having a New York accent, even when the character is from Chicago. What did you, as a native of Australia, have to do to learn how to speak like Olive?
JJ: I studied in New York City so I learned a general American dialect as well as an American standard throughout college and have always performed with an American dialect; of course most of that is unseen with a dialect such as Olive's but all of that training does come into play beneath the affectations. From a general American I take from the script; I know that Olive is from Jersey and I know that she has been living in New York and with mobsters so I can assume it's possible that she has taken on a "New York" sound, which in the 20's is somewhat different than what we might hear in Manhattan in 2015. With a strong comedy role like Olive, this is where I get to play a little. I take the sounds and vowels of the Jersey and New York dialect and make some choices and then see where she sits within that range. The main thing for Olive, of course, is not necessarily the dialect so much, though that is important, but the tone. We know from the script that she has an incredibly irritating voice and for me that took on a nasal, flat tone quality; after that my director let me play around with it until we found something that we were happy with and that was maintainable for eight shows a week. A lot of Olive's voice really was there from the first callback; with a character who is written as strong and as fun as this; it just happens.BWW: You'll have just finished a relatively long sitdown run at the Pantages in Hollywood when you do your one-night run in Riverside. How does a long run differ for you from a one-performance stop? Also, do the performers have the opportunity to rehearse in each theater?
JJ: Being a part of a Tour you get to experience all sorts of environments from sitdowns to one-nighters and they really do all have their own experiences attached. Sitdowns generally provide an opportunity to form a routine in the place, you get comfortable with the venue, the local crew and the crowds and the theatre almost becomes a little home for while you're there, I personally really enjoy sitdowns as I like that routine however when you move on to a new theatre that also brings a new level of energy to the show; particularly during one-nighters you're forced to be even more so on your toes than usual, on high alert in a sense as we are unfamiliar with the venue and the crew, there's a certain adrenaline pumping which can be a lot of fun! You also don't know how the local audience will receive you and so I find I'm super tuned-in to them on the one-nighters.
The cast generally does not have a rehearsal at all in new venues; we'll sit down and have a company meeting the day of the show and talk through any adjustments that we might need to make to accommodate a new venue and if there's anything major, we might re-block it onstage or walk it through but that's all that we have time for. Most of the adjustments we're able to make "on the fly" and in a sense this adds to the high energy of being in a new space!
BWW: Woody Allen is known for both his clever dialogue and his use of hilarious visual images. Do you find that your movements are more heavily scripted in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY than in other musicals?
JJ: I would say that the physicality of the characters is more heightened and specific in BULLETS than in other shows; the characters, particularly Olive, use a great deal of physical comedy and as such it was very important in the rehearsal process to work out how Olive moves and how she holds herself. The blocking however is no more scripted than any other musical but the physicality has to be very specific and any blocking that does happen must live in that physicality.
JJ: Since starting Bullets, I have only fallen deeper in love with the work. I am addicted to my job and I hope to keep booking and working after this Tour is over. In five years I plan to still be working professionally as a performer; growing as an artist and honing my craft.
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY will play at the Fox Performing Arts Center for one performance only, on Wednesday, January 27, 2016, at 7 p.m. (Doors open at 6 p.m.). Ticket prices range from $38.50 to $71.00, plus fees and tax. Tickets are available at www.riversidelive.com, through Ticketmaster, at the box office, or at 800-745-3000. The Fox PAC is located at 3801 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501, about 120 miles from San Diego, 70 miles from parts of the San Fernando Valley and West LA, 57 miles from Long Beach, 55 miles from Palm Springs, and 45 miles from Anaheim.
More information on the BULLETS OVER BROADWAY tour is available at its web site, http://www.bulletsoverbroadwayontour.com/ .
For Jeffrey Ellis's Broadway World review of the BULLETS OVER BROADWAY tour, click on the following link: /national-tours/article/BWW-Review-BULLETS-OVER-BROADWAY-is-Boffo-in-Music-City-20151111