Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
Jemma Jane (Olive Neal) and the cast of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
By Rachel Weinberg
The first national tour of BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (adapted from Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath’s film of the same name) makes for an evening of pure musical theater entertainment, expertly executed with a healthy dose of laughs and superb choreography. Susan Stroman choreographed and directed the original Broadway production, and I’m pleased to report that tour choreographer Clare Cook ensures the dance numbers continue to dazzle. Tour director Jeff Whiting helms this evening of unadulterated fun and the vocal talent in the cast is also prominently on display. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY’s musical numbers are comprised of vaudeville-era tunes from noted composers like Cole Porter, with additional lyrics by Glen Kelly. William Ivey Long’s lovely costumes supply 1920s glitz and glam, and Jason Ardizzone-West’s visually appealing set gives the actors lots of space on which to run amok. And while the musical doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of storytelling or score, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY will certainly bring a smile to audiences’ faces.
There’s not much plot to speak of in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, but here’s a preview. Set in New York City, the musical focuses on the struggling young playwright David Shayne (Michael Williams) and his girlfriend Ellen (Hannah Rose DeFlumeri). At the top of the show, the producer Julian Marx (Rick Grossman) tells David he’s finally found a financial backer willing to take his latest play to Broadway—the mob leader Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino). The catch? Valenti wants his talentless young lover Olive (Jemma Jane, who’s so very good at playing such a bad actor) to have a leading role. And she must be accompanied at all times by one of Valenti’s henchmen, Cheech (a hilarious turn by Jeff Brooks, who’s also a swell vocalist and dancer). The show also introduces the other performers in David’s play, including the aging diva Helen Sinclair (Emma Stratton, every inch the star with the powerhouse voice to match). Helen and Olive are joined onstage by seasoned Broadway actor Warner Purcell (Bradley Allan Zarr), who is far more interested in taking advantage of craft services (and making eyes at Olive) than acting, and the loony Eden (Rachel Bahler), who brings a stuffed dog with her everywhere she goes. When David’s play starts to fall apart in rehearsal, Cheech surprisingly chimes in with some suggestions. And with this eccentric cast of characters, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY plays out as a chaotic, swinging good time.
While the musical numbers in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY occasionally feel shoehorned in and don’t always seem like a natural extensión of the story, they are a pleasure to hear in and of themselves. Highlights include Olive’s rendition of “The Hot Dog Song,” a thinly veiled double entendre number from her days as a nightclub performer. Jane sells the number with her commitment to its over-the-top style and her accompanying dance moves. Jeff Brooks’ performance in Cheech’s solo numbers “Up A Lazy River” and “T’aint Nobody’s Business If I Do” are delivered with sly humor and excellent vocals. And as Ellen and David, DeFlumeri and Shayne sound great on both of their duets, one in each act. Though the numbers are slightly cheesy, both actors make us believe the chemistry is real–and DeFlumeri sings just beautifully.
The dancing in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY remains sublime throughout, and the work of the male tap dancers is particularly notable here. While the entire ensemble tears up the floor with precision and many a physical stunt, the tap break in “T’aint Nobody’s Business If I Do” is a simply exhilarating moment in the first act. The execution of the musical’s choreography adds a memorable element to the less inspired narrative.
If you’re looking for toe-tapping theatrical pleasure, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY is just the ticket.
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