Woody Allen has been known to make a good film…or two…or three. In fact, Cate Blanchet just snagged herself an Oscar playing the tragic protagonist in a Woody Allen film. In 1994, Allen and Douglas McGrath penned a crime-comedy film titled Bullets Over Broadway. The film starred John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Chazz Palminteri and Jennifer Tilly with Allen sitting in the director’s chair. Bullets Over Broadway garnered seven Academy Awards; Wiest won for Best Supporting Actress, the second Academy Award win for her under Allen’s direction.
If you haven’t seen the film, the gist of the plot goes like this…set in the roaring twenties, a young, struggling playwright named David Shayne gets the break of a lifetime. His play will be produced on Broadway and he will direct it ensuring his vision will come to fruition. Only problem is producer Julian Marx receives the funds to front the production from gangster Nick Valenti, and to get the money Valenti’s girlfriend, Olive Neal, must be cast in one of the roles. Olive is no more than a second rate line dancer, but David casts her in the role of the psychiatrist in order secure the funds. Also, he convinces Helen Sinclair, a legendary stage actress and lush, to play lead role and gets compulsive eater Warner Purcell to be the leading man. Soon David realizes that getting a play on stage as its director isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. He also learns that he isn’t the great artist he thought he was as all his re-writes, which the cast adore, are written by Cheech, Olive’s bodyguard and Valenti’s hitman.
In 2012, plans for a musical adaptation were announced. Allen adapted the film into a book and used songs from the American songbook for the musical numbers. Susan Stroman was brought on as the director and choreographer. The cast included Zach Braff as David Shayne, Marin Mazzie as Helen Sinclair, Vincent Pastore as Nick Valenti, Helen Yorke as Olive Neal and Nick Cordero as Cheech.
The minute the curtain rose at the St. James Theater and I saw the title being shot into the set I thought, “Well this is starting off with a bang, I hope it ends with one.” What I would come to learn is that Bullets Over Broadway doesn’t overshoot in the laughs department. It’s a cute comedy that lends itself to a family night at the theater. The biggest laughs and smiles were delivered by Nick Cordero, Helen Yorke, Brooks Ahsmanskas, who played Warner Purnell and Mr. Woofles, the sweetest little pooch since Toto. Marin Mazzie offered a good rendition of Helen Sinclair. I’m sure any members of the audience who had seen the film were just anticipating her saying, “Don’t speak.” That classic line didn’t fall into the silence of the air. Like the film, it was a hilarious bull’s-eye.
My complaint with most new musicals as of late is that they are all song and lack dance. With Bullets Over Broadway, my gripe was the opposite. Although the songs used in this musical were standards, the use of tunes were flat and was absent of the pop I like to hear, but the choreography, under the leadership of Susan Stroman, assisted in placing the musical numbers on an even-keel.
It seems as if Woody Allen has struck again. If you want to a good giggle and some good hoofing then Bullets Over Broadway is musical for you.
Photos: Paul Kolnik