MNfusion Review: ‘Bullets Over Broadway:’ A Quintessential 1920’s Comedy
Katie Fraser, MNFusion 4/16/16
Each era has trends that define it. For the 1920’s it was jazz, flappers and pleasure.
“Bullets Over Broadway” owned this trifecta, and it even threw in a gangster chase scene.
The 2014 musical is an adaptation by Woody Allen of his own 1994 work.
The show follows the same plot as its movie predecessor. Set in 1920’s New York City, it tells the story of a young, struggling playwright, David Shayne (Michael Williams).
Shayne is attempting to sell his play, but the only producer who will work with him gets funds from a gangster, Nick Valenti (Michael Corvino). Valenti offers to back the play under the stipulations that his demanding, untalented girlfriend Olive Neal (Jemma Jane) is cast.
As the show begins rehearsals, Neal’s bodyguard, Valenti’s henchman, Cheech (Jeff Brooks) quickly becomes involved. He begins to give suggestions on dialogue, character development and plot. Pretty soon the play is more Cheech’s than Shayne’s, and Cheech becomes determined to make it the best it can possibly be at any cost.
While the plot itself was a bit trite, it was cleverly performed.
Brooks plays the perfect gangster. His Cheech was just the right blend of machismo, egotism and meat-headedness. He perfectly contradicted Williams small, nerdy playwright.
Brooks also had a beautiful tenor, but unfortunately was rarely given a chance to show it off during the show.
He was, however, given the chance to show off his dance skills. In perhaps the best moment of the show, Brooks was backed by a group of gangsters in “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do.” The song featured a tap number during which each dancer displayed an amazing athleticism and precision. It was a number that kept the audience clapping for at least a full minute after.
As is often the case with many shows, the protagonists were out-shined by the character actors.
At first, Jane’s Olive seemed a bit over the top, but as the show went along she really shined. Her nasally Jersey accent (think Fran from “The Nanny”) and dimwittedness added a bit slapstick of comedy that every 1920’s show needs. One line in particular, where she is reading her first line in the show completely monotone, left the audience rolling.
The character that shined the brightest, however, was Helen Sinclair (Emily Stratton). Sinclair is the aging, drunken movie star Shayne desires to play the lead in his show.
Stratton’s characterization was dangerously close to being over the top, but she miraculously stops just before Sinclair becomes a complete caricature. She is as deliciously manipulative as she is pathetically past her prime. Stratton’s comedic timing is only out-shined by her beautiful singing voice.
There were a few moments when it was difficult to tell what the chorus was singing during the large numbers, but as the songs were merely popular hits from the time and not an original score it didn’t matter much for plot.
The show tapered off from musical comedy into musical absurdity, it offered audiences light-hearted fun and easy comedy performed by a cast capable of much more depth.