[ATTENDED: October 28, 2015] Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical
I have been a fan of Woody Allen’s movies since I took a class on him in college circa 1991. I loved the movie of Bullets Over Broadway which was a fun period piece (1920s) that starred John Cusack and Dianne Wiest among others. The script was punchy and funny and addressed issues of morality and art. And there were gangsters too.
Who would have guessed that the 1994 movie would have been turned into a musical twenty years later. Evidently Allen did not want it turned into a musical until the idea of using songs from the period was introduced (with modified lyrics) and then he agreed.
The show ran on Broadway for about five months, which seems like it must not have been well received. And yet, it did garner 6 Tony nominations and there were many positive reviews. I don’t know enough about Broadway to know if a five month run means anything. The Broadway version starred Zach Braff and Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy from The Sopranos).
The touring version of the musical is listed as Non-equity (I had to look up to see what that meant). The long and short of it is that it means that you won’t have heard of anyone in the performance. The director is also different. I don’t know if that means things are very different from the original production. I had read that typically a non-equity show has a lower budget, but I was quite impressed with the sets in this one. The “train” was amazing, and I really liked the way they created the rooftop and the car and several other scenes.
We wound up leaving the house late, and then hit some massive traffic on 95. So we missed the first two scenes, including the tiger suit opening number, which I’ve read is quite excellent. And then people were in our seats, but since the theater was pretty empty (at least way up in the boonies where we were), we found other seats without causing havoc.
Then we settled in and quickly found our bearings.
As for the musical itself, I know a bunch of period music from this era, so I enjoyed the songs. I liked the way that story-specific lyrics were added to traditional songs. I didn’t recognize all of them, so I don’t know how many were new (critics complained at the lack of new songs in the musical).
And I thought all of the performers were quite good. They all had terrific voices, especially Hannah Rose Deflumeri as Ellen. I also really enjoyed Jeffrey Brooks as Cheech, who had a great delivery. Jemma Jane played Olive. Olive is over the top, intentionally so, (Jennifer Tilly played her in the movie). Although sometimes her lines were hard to understand with that crazy delivery.
The highlight of the musical is probably The Hot Dog song which is so hilariously double entendre that it’s not even entendre by the end. And Jane played it wonderfully.
The story differs somewhat from the movie. There’s lot more cursing if I recall correctly. And, as happens in a musical, a lot of the subtleties have been left out. They have also added a lot of scenes–especially ones in which you can see the play that David has been working on (that never happens in the movie, but I liked the way it was done). And of course a lot of music.
There were some really big laughs in the story. I found myself compa and a few other thingsring it to the movie a lot– Sarah hadn’t seen the movie and was genuinely surprised about Olive. And she really enjoyed the story and songs (she also didn’t know that pretty much all of the songs were old ones–so take that critics).
The best part of the show for me was the choreography, which I was not expecting. There’s an early scene where the gangsters kill random people and the set up is down wonderfully with red lights in doorways as the vicious fall. The dancing hot dogs in “The Hot Dog” song were hilarious. And I really enjoyed the bouncing chairs in “Let’s Misbehave.” But the highlight was certainly the tap dancing gangsters. They had two amazing moments. One was early on where there were some impressive pirouettes and leaps; but even more impressive was the sinister tap in “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” I have never seen tap used so menacingly before. It was really cool and I was delighted that that particular number was as long as it was.
The show was two and a half hours with intermission, which seems a little long. Although I didn’t find the play to be especially long, it probably could have been tighter in places. I would have shortened “There’s a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway” which was slow and the least compelling song in the show.
I also would have preferred a more real looking dog. It wasn’t entirely clear whether the dog was supposed to be real or if she was crazy carrying around a stuffed animal. Even having real barking sounds would have been better.
I have since watched some clips from the Broadway show and it clearly would have been better with those actors.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves and we didn’t mind so much missing those first 15 minutes. (Although I would have liked to see the gangster shoot the “bullet holes” into the curtain).