Bullets Over Broadway

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Photograph: Paul Kolnik
Bullets Over Broadway

Bullets Over Broadway. St. James Theatre (see Broadway). By Woody Allen. Music and lyrics by various artists. Additional lyrics by Glen Kelly. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. With Brooks Ashmanskas, Zach Braff, Nick Cordero, Marin Mazzie, Vincent Pastore, Betsy Wolfe, Lenny Wolpe, Heléne Yorke and Karen Ziemba. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.

Bullets Over Broadway: In brief

Woody Allen's 1994 period comedy about gangsters, playwrights and the Great White Way becomes the musical it was always destined to be. This stage adaptation features a book by Allen and direction and choreography by the peerless Susan Stroman (The Producers). The tunes are jazz standards from the 1920s. Zach Braff and Marin Mazzie star.

Bullets Over Broadway: Theater review by David Cote

“The artist can be forgiven anything if he produces great art,” says one of Woody Allen’s proxies (and let’s face it, they’re all proxies) in Bullets Over Broadway. The maxim is aimed at grossly idealistic playwright David Shayne (Zach Braff), whose Broadway debut is being bankrolled by trigger-happy mobsters. At the time that Allen’s original movie came out—when news of his unseemly personal life was making headlines—the sentiment gained added resonance. Now it’s 20 years later and Bullets has returned as a delirious musical romp. Was the original film great art? Is this adaptation? No—so there’s nothing to forgive.

There is, however, plenty to enjoy—director-choreographer Susan Stroman at the top of her game with a toothsome cast and a gag-filled book surrounded by repurposed jazz standards. The show might be lightweight and nostalgic, but you can’t deny its savvy craft and bursting showmanship: sexy chorines, Art Deco backdrops and sight gags galore. Who knew Broadway could still be this much fun?

The lack of an original score might disappoint some, but music adapter Glen Kelly has penned customized lyrics to make Bullets more than a 1920s jukebox musical. The song list will be catnip to jazz aficionados: “Tiger Rag,” “Let’s Misbehave” and the swinging “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do,” the third crooned by hit man Cheech (Nick Cordero), who becomes unofficial dramaturg and shadow author of David’s Broadway debut. What you get is a live-cartoon version of the movie, with more shtick, less melancholy and Stroman’s signature panache. Some material brings out her irrepressibly smutty side, as when talent-challenged mob moll Olive (luscious Heléne Yorke) sings and dances “The Hot Dog Song,” with all the bun-in-sausage imagery that title connotes.

Allen’s book—a topsy-turvy fable about art and commerce (with the Mafia standing in for commerce) has strong narrative bones and juicy stock characters, most memorably Helen Sinclair (Marin Mazzie at full tilt), the drunken stage diva with the melodramatic catchphrase, “Don’t speak!” Thanks to a smashing cast (Brooks Ashmanskas as a corpulent leading man and adorable Betsy Wolfe as David’s long-suffering girlfriend) and Stroman’s steady hand on the tiller, Allen’s moral comes through neatly: Human life trumps art, whether you’re a pretentious scribe or an unexpectedly gifted thug. Old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing and built to run, Bullets is high caliber and hits the spot.—Theater review by David Cote

THE BOTTOM LINE Woody Allen kills on Broadway.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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