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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Bullets Over Broadway

" "She's a dumb, talentless piece of trash. I told her to her face, but she don't agree."—Cheech
Michael Williams, Emma Stratton. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
You watch the chorus girls in their endlessly fanciful outfits, flapping their shapely gams off. You exhale in appreciation as a chorus of hoods taps mightily through "Tain't Nobody's Bizness if I do." You groan and snicker over the size of the sausages, both real and fabricated, in the rendition of — saints preserve us — "I want a Hot Dog for my Roll" and utter a silent prayer that none of these wieners will reappear anytime soon. You watch as a company of touring performers, many of whose names will not be recognizable, croon, hoof and mug their way into oblivion in the service of a tale which, in its original format, was one of a master storyteller's best scripts.

And you think to yourself, "Woody, oh Woody, that paycheck you cashed better have included a hell of a lot of zeroes." We're talking, naturally, about Woody Allen, the man who adapted his own 1994 screenplay for Bullets over Broadway: The Musical..

Allen's name may be above the title, but Allen's credit bio is barely a blip in the Bullets program. In a way, that's fitting, since the randy broadness of this musical has director-choreographer Susan Stroman's imprint all over it. In the non-Equity touring version of Bullets, Stroman's direction, choreography and several of the design elements have been recreated by assistant directors.

The result is a grab bag. Visually splendid and conducted with musical panache by music director Robbie Cowan, Bullets careens between high camp fun and over-the-top bloat. Someone might have reminded these performers to take a breath and trust that the source material could generate laughs and delight without this heavy-handed vaudevillian overlay.

The story mirrors the film. Mob boss Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino) bankrolls the Broadway debut of up-and-coming writer David Shayne (Michael Williams) in exchange for Shayne's casting Valenti's dimbulb and talentless girlfriend Olive Neal (Jemma Jane) in a role, any role. With essentially no choice in the matter, David caves. The rest of the cast includes compulsively snacking leading man Warner Purcell (Bradley Allan Zarr), quirky character actress Eden Brent (Rachel Bahler) and Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton) an aging diva who has recently attained greater notoriety for being an adulteress and a drunk than for her acting.

Olive, who has a grating voice as well as the thespian ability of an armadillo, comes with a bodyguard. That would be Nick's top hit man, Cheech (Jeff Brooks) who, after sitting around the rehearsal long enough, starts making suggestions that improve David's play. The already histrionic David isn't entirely thrilled that an uneducated ape like Cheech proves a savvier playwright than he is, but David's angst is somewhat soothed by the affair he begins with Helen. The show must go on, right? David's girlfriend Ellen (Hannah Rose DeFlumeri) is a stand-by-her-man type, but she badly wants to get married and/or go back to Pittsburgh.

The action moves from alleyways to rooftops, from out-of-town tryouts to the Belasco Theatre. There is no new music. Allen, Stroman and music adaptor Glen Kelly have worked era-specific tunes by the likes of Andy Razaf, Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Cahn, Cole Porter, Porter Grainger, Perry Bradford, Milton Ager and Joe Young into the plot.

The songs are staged as production numbers with varying degrees of splash. Choreographer Clare Cook and her leggy chorines the Atta-Girls give the proceedings some sizzle and William Ivey Long's costumes are across-the-board impressive (yep, even those living hot dogs). The gangster ballet, led by Brooks's Cheech, is a show-stopper.

In its film version, Bullets over Broadway wasn't the kind of tale that especially needed theatrical bombast. A playwright's desperation could be palpable enough without the monotonous and unending schtick of Michael Williams's David to drive home the point. Allen's films tend to go for subtle, less flamboyant humor, but, with or without the author's blessing, the order here was clearly "make it big."

Brooks earns many laughs, making Cheech a palookah with a poetic soul. Jane nails most of Olive's humor, demonstrating that it is no easy feat to convincingly play a bimbo. Stratton and Bahler make nice work of two rather different theatrical divas.

All in all, here's wishing the entire Bullets team had had a Cheech to help keep things in line.

Bullets over Broadway: The Musical
Written by Woody Allen based on the screenplay of the film of the same name by Allen and Douglas McGrath
Original Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman
Direction Recreated by Jeff Whiting
Cast: Rachel Bahler, Jeff Brooks, Michael Corino, Hannah Rose DeFlumeri, Rick Grossman, Jemma Jane, Emma Stratton, Michael Williams, Bradley Allan Zarr, Blaire Baker, Mary Callahan, Jake Corcoran, Elizabeth Dugas, Carissa Fiorillo, Patrick Graver, Andrew Hendrick, Lainee Hunter, Justin Jutras, Brian Martin, Conor McGriffin, Andrew Metzgar, Corinne Munsch, Kaylee Olson, Joey Ortolani, Kelly Oeterson, Lexie Plath, Ian Saunders
Scenic Design: Jason Ardizzone-West
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Original Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Shannon Slaton
Tour Lighting Design and Adaptation: Carolyn Wong
Wig and Hair Design: Bernie Ardia
Costume Coordinator: Jimm Halliday
Vocal Arranger: Andy Einhorn
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Music Coordinator: John Mezzio
Music Director/Conductor: Robbie Cowan
Casting: Stewart/Whitley
Assistant Director: Michael Lamasa
Stage Manager: Andrew T. Scheer
Company Manager: Katie Cortez
Production Manager: Hector Guivas
General Manager: Bobby T. Maglaughlin Music Adaptation and Additional Lyrics: Glen Kelly
Choreography Recreation: Clare Cook
Songs: "Tiger Rag," "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me." "Tain't a Fit Night Out for Man or Beast," "The Hot Dog Song," "They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me," "Up a Lazy River," "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," "Let's Misbehave," "There's a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway," "(I'll be Glad When You're Dead) You Rascal You," "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I DO," "Runnin' Wild," "There's a New Day Comin'!" "There'll be Some Changes Made," "I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle," "Good Old New York," "I've Found a New Baby," "The Panic is On," "She's Funny That Way." Plays through January 24, 2016 at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, 800-982-2787,
Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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