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Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" at the St. James Theatre
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Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" at the St. James Theatre

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Bullets Over Broadway
(Bullets Over Broadway Website)

Written by Woody Allen
Based on the screenplay by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath

Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman
Music Adaptation and Additional Lyrics by Glen Kelly

St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street

Brooks Ashmanskas, Zach Braff, Nick Cordero
Marin Mazzie, Vincent Pastore, Betsy Wolfe
Lenny Wolpe, Heléne York, Karen Ziemba

And an ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

Scenic Design: Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Makeup Design: Angelina Avallone
Assoc. Director: Jeff Whiting
Assoc. Choreographer: James Gray
Animal Trainer: William Berloni
Music Supervision: Glen Kelly
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Music Director/Conductor/Vocal Arrangements: Andy Einhorn
Music Coordinator: Howard Joines
Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Production Stage Manager: Rolt Smith
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Producer: Don’t Speak LLC
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 16, 2014

I never thought I’d use the word “schlubby” in a theater review, much less any review, but Zach Braff, reprising the original film lead of David Shayne, in Mr. Allen’s Broadway musical, Bullets Over Broadway, is just not “schlubby” enough to be funny. Mr. Braff, tonight’s messenger of Woody Allen’s hilarious dialogue, as playwright David Shayne, is tall, handsome, cool, not very wrinkled, and not “schlubby” funny. Think Josh Gad in Book of Mormon, Norbert Leo Butz in Catch Me If You Can, Oliver Platt in Guys and Dolls. In the Bullets… film, John Cusack played the lead, but he didn’t have to sing and dance to a sold-out house. Tonight’s live show was sometimes painful, with the audience clearly wanting to laugh hysterically, when silence fell. Yet, there were still huge laugh lines, such as in the gangster hit scene at Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, sung to “Up a Lazy River”. Nick Cordero as Cheech, a gangster, who’s also Shayne’s new ghostwriter, and Heléne Yorke as Olive Neal, the boss’ gal, give that scene a generous helping of glee. Speaking of helpings, Brooks Ashmanskas as Warner Purcell, eats his way through riotous food fests, generating contagious crowd laughter.

This tale of a playwright needing to cast a gangster’s gal in a speaking role, in order to procure production funds, with the gal so ditzy that she must be disposed, up that lazy river, is exceptionally close to the non-musical film. And, further, rather than creating a new score, Mr. Allen and Director/Choreographer, Susan Stroman, chose 1920’s tunes and rags, like “Tiger Rag”, “They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me”, “’Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do”, and “Good Old New York”. But, putting Mr. Braff’s miscasting aside, Bullets Over Broadway is a hugely entertaining show, with chorus girls, over the top sets and costumes, and a Norma Desmond type. Marin Mazzie is the always inebriated Helen Sinclair, who devours David Shayne, faster than a chorus girl can kick. Add William Ivey Long’s tiger-striped, tiny costumes, gloves, and tails on those kicking girls, plus his hot dog suits, for the carousing number, “The Hot Dog Song”, and you want to telegraph (à la the 20’s) Mr. Allen to step into the lead, himself, yes as is, yes now. Wouldn’t that be a show. Adding to the almost perfect pitch is Santo Loquasto’s outstanding scenic design, with chorus girls dancing on the New Haven Line, and Helen Sinclair’s lush lair.

Mr. Allen, who plays clarinet Monday nights at The Carlyle, chose perfect musical numbers as the plot played out. Andy Einhorn keeps the orchestra filled with rhythm and zest, especially during Susan Stroman’s extraordinarily choreographed show-stoppers, like the high-kicking tiger girls and the rapid-spinning gangster tappers. Ms. Stroman always creates winning ensemble design in motion. Her direction was almost flawless, if only the casting had respected the elements of comedy. Bullets Over Broadway is trying to be vaudevillian, vivacious, and sexy. Comedy is the toughest form of theater to stage, and the actors need to look a little funny to be funny, think Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, and, yes, Woody Allen. Mr. Cordero brought the house down in the thug role of Cheech, as did Ms. Yorke as Olive. They brought a cartoonish type to the stage, as did Mr. Pastore and Mr. Wolpe. Ms. Mazzie was too forced and aggressive, and Mr. Braff, well I’ve said enough on that. Donald Holder’s lighting is bright and warm, and Peter Hylenski’s sound captured each song and gag. Kudos to Woody Allen, and hopefully he’ll tweak this great Broadway show. In the future, he should remount and recast the show, even on tour or on a more intimate stage.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at