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“Bullets Over Broadway” the musical…left me cold…(Review) March 23, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
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Seen in a preview performance on March 22, 2014 (the show opens April 10th — an inexplicably long time for a preview period for such a slight show)

There is nothing really wrong with “Bullets Over Broadway” at the St. James Theatre. There is also nothing really right. The entire big-budget affair is commercial Broadway musical theater at its most average.

Woody Allen, working from his own movie script, follows a (very small) story about the development of a Broadway-bound play in the 20’s, complete with neurotic author (Zach Braff — who thought casting him would be a good idea?)…fading star (Marin Mazzie…”don’t speak, don’t speak”)…angry Mobster (Vincent Pastore)…his talent-free want-to-be-an-actress doll (Helene York)…and a handful of other assorted stereotypes that work well in his small-budget movie but don’t work so well on a big Broadway stage.

Woody Allen movie-regular Santo Loquasto wraps it all in a very bleak scenic design that thrusts the stage out 8 feet beyond its normal proscenium boundaries and creates blocked sightlines for all people in house right and house left. Its all dark and lifeless, even the moving chaser lights seem to be dulled. William Ivy Long has created serviceable (at best) costumes, and some are downright unflattering.

So mediocrity, begin your role call:

The script, one of Woody Allen’s smaller works, probably isn’t the main problem here. Its funny where it needs to be, but it also borders on crass — his movie was never crass, it was funny…

The direction by Susan Stroman is flat, and seems to borrow from every other major blockbuster she has directed — you can predict where each actor is going to move, and what they are going to do, and how they are going to gesticulate once they get there. And you can be assured that there will be too much choreography (and there is). There isn’t anything “wrong” with it — there is just too much direction and not enough originality.

Zach Braff is unfunny. Seriously. For a guy who made a career of being very funny on Scrubs, here he just falls flat. He’s not bad — he’s pretty good, actually….but he’s given nothing much to work with, and at times he just looks like that big goofy college kid stuck in a role he isn’t comfortable with.

Marin Mazzie and Karen Ziemba prove that they are troopers no matter how outlandish the blocking given to them. Both turn in very good performances.

Helene Yorke does the best she can as moll Olive stuck under a horrible blond wig, but at least it lets her hide in her character and she does a good job doing so. She brings some of the few sparks of life to the show — albeit so predictable you know where its going all along.

The standout here is Nick Cordero as Cheech (gangster turned playwright). He’s charismatic, always fun to watch, and seems to be enjoying himself (the same can not be said of many of the others on stage). His “big number” that turns into a full male-cast mobster tap number is the show’s highlight.

The second musical highlight is Olive’s “The Hot Dog Song” — its over the top and borders on material stolen from “The Producers”, but its the single funniest scene in the entire 2:45 show. (The run time, by the way, needs to be cut by at least 15 minutes prior to opening or you’re going to kill ’em, Susan…may I suggest cutting “The panic is on” and “She’s funny that way” to start?)

Music — what was once intended to be an original score (and should have been) turned out to be a hodgepodge of old 20’s trunk songs — none of which have any real impact and while sounding pleasantly jazzy throughout have little energy and little life to them. The additional lyrics written for them show some promise, but overall it all falls flat.

But the crowing achievement of mediocrity is the entire finale sequence…take the ending from Anything Goes, and throw in the song “Yes, we have no bananas” (seriously) and you have the ending here. Its horribly conventional and, well, um, just odd.

You won’t hate Bullets Over Broadway. But you won’t walk out thinking its great either. The audience reaction at intermission was sort of a stunned non-reaction. I saw Susan Stroman duck out toward the end of intermission. Apparently even she had better things to do for the rest of the night.

Not recommended.

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