Theater Review - Bullets Over Broadway (NY)

Harkening back to the days of burlesque and traditional book musicals, Woody Allen's “Bullets Over Broadway” is the most lavish Broadway show of the season so far. Directed by and Choreographed by Susan Stroman, it operates like a well-oiled machine, moving Cotton Club Dancers, Flappers, and Gangsters, Atta-Girls singing “Tiger-Rag,” Bohemians, and Red Caps, singing “Good Old New York” on and off stage at a rapid pace, tapping all the way.   The felicitous score is an amalgam of popular songs from the 20s, 30s and 40s like my favorite, “I'm Sitting on Top of the World,” with additional lyrics by Glen Kelly.  Santo Loquasto's multiple imaginatively designed sets and William Ivey Long's exquisite Costumes are dazzling. However, much of it seems flat and without wit!


Heading the large cast is Zach Braff, who charms with his comedic flair as the naïve playwright, David Shayne---Woody Allen's surrogate. Who knew Braff could sing and dance with such verve and sincerity?  Marin Mazzie is simply stunning as Helen Sinclair, the great Broadway star, while Helene Yorke gives a good take on the dumb blond playing no-talent Olive Neal, a gangster's gal, who wants to be an actress. Vincent Pastore, who has many stage and screen credits, is most famed for his role in television’s “The Sopranos”  and dedicates his performance to the late James Gandolfini.  He is so convincing as mobster Nick Valenti, he seems almost life-like. And then there is Nick Cordero in a league of his own.  This very tall, black-haired actor wins the top award as Cheech, one of Valenti's Gangsters assigned to watch over Olive during rehearsals. Olive is cast because Valenti is underwriting David Shayne's play. Julian Mars, David's friend, the reliable Lenny Wolpe, convinces him to overlook Olive's shortcomings.


When rehearsals begin, Cheech contributes ideas to improve the play and little by little takes over.  He tells Shayne that he studied editing in school before he burnt it down. It was his science project. Shayne falls for Helen (Sinclair), leaving his girlfriend, Ellen, the fresh-faced Betsy Wolfe, who admits to having a passionate affair with Shayne's best friend. Meanwhile, acted by the always funny Brooks Ashmanskas, Warner Purcell, one of the stars of the play, keeps gaining weight, and Karen Ziemba, a perky Eden Brent, is wrapped up with her precious dog, Mr. Woofles, played by Trixie, who was adopted from Pet Rescue in Armonk, NY; her understudy Rocco was adopted from Delaware Humane Association in Wilmington. David Shayne admits to Helen that he didn't write the now-successful play and she ditches him, confessing that she was in love with the artist not the man. 

 

Up to this point, things were going well. But then Cheech decides that Olive is ruining his show and kills her, shooting her in full view as she falls into the Gowanus Canal. Maybe I am overly sensitive since the Newtown killings, but I think this showed a lack of imagination on Woody Allen's part. I would expect a more unique and less violent method of getting rid of Olive. Also, Helen makes some nasty crack about Irving Berlin and African Americans that brought a gasp of disbelief from the audience.  

 

The last upbeat number in “Bullets Over Broadway” is “Yes, We have no Bananas” written in 1922 by Irving Cohn and Frank Silver (With additional lyrics by Kelly), it was sung by Eddie Cantor in the revue, “Make It Snappy.”  Merv Griffin, who was a pianist and singer, before he invented “Wheel of Fortune,” popularized it in the 1950s. 

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