Bullets Over Broadway

by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 6, 2016

Michael Williams (David Shayne) and Hannah Rose DeFlumeri (Ellen)
Michael Williams (David Shayne) and Hannah Rose DeFlumeri (Ellen)  

Writer-director Woody Allen's memorable 1994 film comedy "Bullets Over Broadway" served up a touch of vintage Billy Wilder (a la "Some Like It Hot" and "One, Two, Three") driven by Allen's trademark genius for mixing a farcical story with darker elements and trenchant humor. Allen's Jazz Age guys-and-dolls saga, "Bullets" seemed tailor-made for stage-musical adaptation, and that's what master director-choreographer Susan Stroman ("The Producers") and book writer Allen delivered to Broadway in 2014.

This simpatico team incorporated zesty songs from the '20s-'30s into the frenetically paced narrative. While the highly anticipated show lasted only a few months on Broadway (despite several nominations from the major award groups), and admittedly suffers a bit from the second-act blahs, it's a fun and breezy concoction. It's a must for Allen devotees and lovers of old-fashioned musical comedy. A well-above-average touring edition of the 2014 show makes for a highly entertaining evening in the musical's LA bow at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre.

In a Damon Runyon-esque Big Apple in 1928, hopeful young playwright David Shayne (a terrific Michael Williams), anxious to locate a financier for his first Broadway play, makes a questionable swap. Producer Julian Marx (Rick Grossman) will get the show on the boards if David agrees to cast the talentless and difficult Olive (splendid Jemma Jane), bimbo girlfriend of Mark's mobster friend Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino).

When rehearsals begin, Nick insists that one of his henchman, Cheech (superb Jeff Brooks) sits in at rehearsals to keep an eye on the man-hungry Olive. Wannabe dramaturg Cheech soon begins dictating rewrites of the script to David, much to the budding playwright's frustration. Other complications include the affair that David strikes up with his diva leading lady, Helen (divinely amusing Emma Stratton), behind the back of his girlfriend Ellen (Hannah Rose Deflumeri).

And the play's doltish leading man Warner (a terrific Bradley Allan Zarr) is constantly binging on food. The myriad complications lead to slightly darker places, as violence predictably becomes part of the equation. Yet slapstick free-for-alls prevail, as the story moves to its goofy climax.

Though the production is handsomely designed (Jason Ardizzone-West's sets, William Ivey Long's costumes, Donald Holden's lighting), its strongest assets are the endless string of campy production numbers (Stroman's original choreography, recreated by Clare Cook, in this edition), which tap into a treasure trove of amusing and/or romantic vintage songs.

Those old enough to remember the tuneful and/or witty chestnuts ("Up a Lazy River," Cole Porter's bawdy "Let's Misbehave," "'Taint Nobody's Business If I Do," "Yes We Have No Bananas," "Runnin' Wild" and more) will revel in the perfect mix of nostalgia and pure fun.

Lesser known but responsible for perhaps the most sidesplitting highlight is "I Want a Hot Dog," a blissful mix of bawdy camp and dazzling staging, which is brought to uproarious perfection by Jane, as the saucy Olive. This number brings to mind Stroman's glorious collaboration with Mel Brooks on "The Producers," including its unforgettable pretzel costumes.

Despite the evening's many high points and the superb performances and staging, the proceedings start to feel redundant and occasionally draggy after intermission. Yet that's a small price to pay for the zesty fun that dominates the evening. To his long and legendary career as a writer, actor, director and producer in Hollywood, Allen's foray into old-fashioned Broadway musicals adds a gratifying footnote to his legacy.

"Bullets Over Broadway" runs through Jan. 24 at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For tickets and information, call 800-982-2787-3006 or visit http://www.jollywoodpantages.com.