Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway' Musical Hits Moderate Aims, Humorously -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
The PrivateBank Theatre (i.e. the Shubert), Chicago
Thru May 1

I've never seen Woody Allen's film Bullets Over Broadway, which was released in 1994 and stars John Cusack.

And while I think several of Allen's movies are terrific--Annie Hall, Manhattan, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, Broadway Danny Rose, Match Point, Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine and more--I've long ceased being a fan of Woody himself, so although he isn't in the movie, I'm not likely to seek it out.

But from the musical based on it--which Allen wrote, incorporating early 20th century standards as the score--I can perceive a rather humorous premise.

In New York in 1929, a young playwright named David Shayne--played by Cusack in the film, Zach Braff in the short-lived Broadway production and Michael Williams in the non-Equity tour now in Chicago, whose cast members will be those cited from here on out--is suddenly green-lighted to bring a play to Broadway under the auspices of noted producer Julian Marx (Rick Grossman).

Funding is being provided solely by mobster Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino), with the insistence that his squeaky-voiced girlfriend Olive (Jemma Jane, who is largely delightful) play a role.

Nick orders one of his henchmen named Cheech (an excellent Jeff Brooks) to look after Olive through the play's development, rehearsal, out-of-town and NYC production process, and he--SPOILER ALERT, I guess--turns out to be something of a script doctoring savant.

Actors & actresses within the play within the musical also factor in, with star name Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton) getting cozy with David despite his having a girlfriend (Hannah Rose Deflumeri).

Originally directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman--who so brilliantly helmed The Producers--Bullets Over Broadway brings some nice laughs, if not as many LOL guffaws as I was hoping, and makes for a solid evening of entertainment.

Though there are a number of quality songs--few known to me prior to their use here--such as "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "Let's Misbehave," "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do" and more, and some terrific production numbers with Stroman's inspired choreography ("Tiger Rag," "The Hot Dog Song," etc.), perhaps because none were expressly written for Bullets Over Broadway, the show's narrative flow feels a bit stilted.

And though this seems to be a rather strong and spirited non-Equity cast, there were too many characters and too few individually superb performances--beyond Jane, Brooks and fine singing & dancing throughout--to ever let me get too invested in what was transpiring.

By the time the closing number perplexingly proclaiming "Yes, we have no bananas"--which has nothing to do with anything going on prior--came about, I was ready to put Bullets Over Broadway in my rearview mirror.

It's still in Chicago through the end of this week, and those in town for, say, a convention and looking for some light evening theater, or even devout musical theater lovers who value seeing every new title, should be quite aptly and thoroughly entertained.

Though I generally prefer tours that employ Actors Equity union members--the quality is usually higher and performers paid more, though I understand production costs can be prohibitive--this production reminds that there are numerous non-Equity troopers with loads of talent.

And while Bullets Over Broadway might have worked better with original songs, that idea was supposedly pitched to Allen--a noted jazz aficionado and skilled clarinetist--and rejected in favor of the standards-filled score, so it's not like the music wasn't carefully culled or generally well-supportive of the narrative.

But even with the always estimable Stroman, the power of Woody Allen's name especially in New York and a strong 2014 original cast--besides Braff, notables included Marin Mazzie, Vincent Pastore, Karen Ziemba, Brooks Ashmanskas and Nick Cordero--Bullets Over Broadway survived only 6 months on the Great White Way.

Yet it did receive six Tony nominations, although not one for Best New Musical.

All in all it was worth my time--and money, as part of my Broadway in Chicago subscription series--and may well be worth yours, simply as a fun night on the town.

Just don't expect it to shtick.

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