BWW Review: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is Boffo in Music City

BWW Review: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is Boffo in Music City

Gimme a chorus line of gorgeous girls with gams up to here, a tap-dancing mob of darkly handsome wise guys, a serious lady of the theater whose teeth marks may be found all around a stage set - place them amid a whimsical and altogether unbelievable plot as thin as the best of the old-time movie musicals, complete with a score of tuneful hits from the jazz age, then throw 'em a laugh-out-loud funny script by Woody Allen - and I am in musical theater nirvana. (You really should read that first sentence with all the dramatic portent one can muster!) And through Sunday, at least, so you can be as well, since Bullets Over Broadway, the musical directed and choreographed on Broadway by Susan Stroman, will continue its run in Andrew Jackson Hall at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

With performances by a talented cast of newcomers and slightly more seasoned actors with presence to spare, Bullets Over Broadway moves along at a grand pace to thoroughly engage you in the hilarious, if slightly nefarious, hijinks that transpire onstage when the make-believe worlds of gangsters, chorus girls and theatrical types collide in a fictionalized take on Grand Guignol drama.

BWW Review: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is Boffo in Music CityThe luminous Emma Stratton, whose performance as Helen Sinclair delightfully pays tribute to the grand ladies of both the stage and screen, leads the cast with a spot-on portrayal that will lead you to various heights of theatrical escapism in the very best sense.

Henceforth, her "don't speak" command (even if Dianne Wiest first uttered it in her Oscar-winning turn as la dame Sinclair) shall become my own catchphrase even when I'm not clad in her glamourous gowns and day dresses - and despite the rather pedestrian nature of life in the 21st Century. If only we could perfect that time traveling machine to whisk us away to those wicked, wicked times...

Stratton fairly drips 1920s era glamour and glitz throughout her finely tuned portrayal of the rather grand Broadway star, soaring over the top of stage-bound convention with a surfeit of dramatic license, which is capably underscored by her wonderfully modulated take on the almost otherworldly character. Despite Helen's more theatrically-charged histrionics and total self-absorption, conversely Stratton is immensely likable and awe-inspiring in the way we all want our theatrical icons to be.

The story, concocted for the Oscar-winning 1994 film of the same name by Allen and co-screenwriter Douglas McGrath is ridiculously vapid, to be certain, but it harkens back to the glorious golden age of movie musicals - by way of a fractured Valentine to the theater - offering a farfetched, if enormously entertaining, fable of art and commerce, of notoriety and celebrity.

Quite frankly, it seems impossible to love theater and to not fall shamelessly and hopelessly in love with Bullets Over Broadway, what with its charming mélange of characters (the wayward chorine and her mobster boss paramour, the ambitious and intellectual playwright and his earnest, if horny, girlfriend, a cavalcade of bad guys whose fancy footwork will leave you breathless and the various backstage/onstage/offstage habitues of the theater who are so like people you know in real life - if you live a life theatrical), a toe-tapping and shoulder swaying score of period-perfect songs (particularly noteworthy is the superb musicianship of the orchestra, under the baton of conductor/musical director Robbie Cowan) and Stroman's extraordinarily exuberant choreography, which lifts the production into the rarefied air of dance perfection with its gleeful nod to the terpsichorean tradition.

BWW Review: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is Boffo in Music CityThe basic plotline follows the machinations of a mob boss known as Nick Valenti (played with understated elegance by Michael Corvino) who bankrolls the debut of a new Broadway play by neophyte playwright David Shayne (charmingly portrayed by Michael Williams, who proves equally adept at physical comedy and interpreting a song - his "I'm Sitting On Top of the World" is particularly appealing) in order to make his girlfriend Olive Neal (the raucously rambunctious Jemma Jane steals virtually every scene she is in) a bright shining star, thanks to her newfound Broadway bona fides. Of course, the course of true love never does run smooth - and neither does the germination of a new play - so hilarity, it is certain, will ensue. Throw in a silver-throated mobster (named "Cheech," played by the perfectly cast Jeff Brooks, he of the broodingly sexy stage presence and outstanding tap dancing skills - his theme of "(Up A) Lazy River" is swell!) with the soul of a poet; a randy actor who loves to eat whatever is in front of him (played with show-biz aplomb and a terrific sense of comic timing by Bradley Alan Zarr); the playwright's forlorn and forgotten girlfriend (Hannah Rose Deflumeri, who manages to underscore her wholesomeness with surprising sexuality); and the off-kilter and probably certifiably crazy second banana who treats her stuffed dog as if he were real (and from where we sat, he may have been a stuffed pussy, for all we know), played with abandon by the nifty Rachel Bahler - and you have a fun-filled two-plus hours of musical comedy mayhem, punctuated with laughter, gunfire and double entendres.

BWW Review: BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is Boffo in Music CityThe show's score is filled with an artful blend of period tunes, some well-known hits while others are of the novelty song variety which was in its heyday in the Tin Pan Alley era - including "Tiger Rag," "Runnin' Wild" (a sensational first act closer that takes the company for its pre-Broadway tryout in Beantown, aka Boston), the aforementioned "(Up A) Lazy River" and "There'll Be Some Changes Made," along with such unknown but just as delightful (and deliciously naughty) songs as "The Hot Dog Song" and "I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle." We'll hold our tongue about the show's finale, but suffice it to say that it's grandly silly...a wonderful reminder of how mindless musical theater used to be before it got all serious and stuff. Thanks, Jerome Kern! Jeez.

Lovingly and beautifully designed - could the fashions of the 1920s have been more alluringly eye-popping than those created by William Ivey Long for Bullets Over Broadway? - with superb sets by Jason Ardizzone-West, lighting design by Donald Holder (recreated on tour by Carolyn Wong) and close to impeccable sound design by Shannon Slaton, Bullets Over Broadway has the luxe feel of a top-flight tour even if this is a non-union engagement courtesty of NETworks Presentations LLC.

  • Bullets Over Broadway, The Musical. Written by Woody Allen, based on the screenplay of the film by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath. Original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman. Direction recreated by Jeff Whiting. Choreography recreated by Clare Cook. Music direction by Robbie Cowan. Presented at Andrew Jackson Hall, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville. Through Sunday, November 15. For details, go to Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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