by: Sandi Durell
A machine gun opens fire – – Bullets Over Broadway – – the title in lights spelled out on the curtain, the Atta-Girls come dancing out in “Tiger Rag” – long tails swaying on scanty costumes – the mobsters converge, and art and commerce meet in this throwback musical comedy off and running at the St. James Theater, closely following Woody Allen’s 1994 film of the same name.
Although there is no original score, the music culled from the 1920s, works just fine within the conceit of the original script and is directed and choreographed by superstar Susan Stroman.
The story line features a zany dems and doe’s broad named Olive (Helene Yorke – Masters of Sex), the girlfriend of Nick Valenti (played by Vincent Pastore of TVs Sopranos) as she nudges him to make her a star with that high pitched Brooklyn-ese accent, he promising to keep her happy – “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.” So when young playwright David Shayne (Zach Braff – Scrubs) has the chance to get his play produced with Nick’s backing, it comes along with baggage – Olive.
Braff takes on the role of Woody Allen with as much angst as he can muster, making it all worth his while when big name, aging star Helen Sinclair (the glorious Marin Mazzie) comes aboard – “They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me” – cleverly manipulating David into falling for her and increasing her part, her signature line throughout ‘Don’t Speak!’
Unfortunately, David just isn’t as good a writer as he thought when Cheech (Nick Cordero –Toxic Avenger), the hitman bodyguard now attached to Olive, begins to give suggestions to enhance the script, finding his new voice as a writer and enjoying every minute. They keep their little secret as machine guns rat tat tat and bodies disappear in the Gowanus Canal while Cheech croons “Up a Lazy River.” Cheech and the mobsters have a showstopper song and tap number “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do” – one of Bullets’ highlights.
In the mix, is Warner Purcell (the always comical Brooks Ashmanskas) as Helen Sinclair’s fat and fatter leading man, who eats anything in his path, as his costumes get larger and larger, and who has a little thing going with Olive. Betsy Wolfe, with her lovely soprano, plays David’s girlfriend Ellen. Karen Ziemba as Eden Brent adds her own panache and is never without Mr. Woofles, the sweet little Pomeranian she carries to rehearsals.
It’s an all singing, all dancing show featuring a chorus of top notch hoofers and flappers and redcaps dancing atop the New Haven Line, the dialogue geared up with more emphasis on sex (“The Hot Dog Song”), many vaudeville type gags and guffaws, and a whole lotta Tin Pan Alley tunes you’ll recognize via the vast knowledge of Woody Allen – “Let’s Misbehave,” “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” “I’ve Found a New Baby.”
The glitzy costumes by William Ivey Long more than fulfill the 20s era within the mood created by set designer Santo Loquasto, accompanied by good mood lighting via Donald Holder.
“Bullets” may not shine with the big expectations everyone was talking about, but audiences are laughing, leave smiling and are humming the tunes. What more could ya want!
“Bullets Over Broadway” – St. James Theater, 246 W. 44 St. 212 239-6200 www.telecharge.com
*Photos: Paul Kolnik