Based on the 1994 film, the National Tour of the new musical comedy, Bullets Over Broadway, is shooting up the Academy of Music for a limited engagement through November 1st. Kicking off the new Broadway Philadelphia season, this show is a musical comedy with a capital “C”. Written by the ever creative Woody Allen, it showcases some of the classic music of the 1920’s, including “Let’s Misbehave”, “I’m Sitting on Top of the World”, “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” and “Runnin’ Wild”. Opening on Broadway last season at the St. James Theatre with six Tony-Award nominations, this tour marks its Philadelphia Premiere.
Aspiring, young, starving playwright, David Shane, desperate to get one of his plays produced, casts a mobster’s talentless moll, Olive, in a supporting role in his new drama. He also casts the glamorous, slightly alcoholic, Broadway star, Helen Sinclair. As both writer and director, Shane is forced to appease both his star and Cheech, Olive’s bodyguard, who offers numerous ways to improve his script. The moral question arises as to just how far an artist will go to create great art. But this show is far from being a morality play as witnessed by the Finale (a silly novelty song). The closing number serves as a disclaimer that we should not take the premise – that artists are above society’s moral code – too seriously.
There are some stellar performances -- first, by Jeff Brooks as the hard-nosed, hard-hearted gangster who turns out to be a talented and extremely egotistical playwright. Mr. Brooks is a triple-threat whose acting, singing and dancing skills are top-notch. He, along with the male dancers in “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do”, stop the show. Secondly, Emma Stratton as the diva, Helen Sinclair, is not only glamorous, but possesses a great belt and a lovely legit soprano voice, which is beautifully showcased in the rediscovered Tin Pan Alley gem, “There’ a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway”. Bradley Allan Zarr is hilarious as leading actor, Warner Purcell, who has such an eating disorder that by the end of try-out performances, he can’t seem to remove his derriere from a chair (a great sight gag). Though she plays Olive slightly over the top, props must be paid to Jemma Jane for her agile dancing, her vocal chops, fab figure and Energizing Bunny vitality. There are also great performances by Rachel Bahler (Eden Brent), Hanna Rose DeFlumeri (Ellen), Michael Corvino (Nick Valenti) and Rick Grossman (Julian Marx). Though young and handsome Michael Williams fits the bill as the playwright, David Shayne, he is not quite up to par with the rest of this talented cast. Of note is the great hoofing by both the male and female ensemble, with plenty of sexy ladies running around in skimpy costumes as the Atta-Girls open the show with “Tiger Rag”.
Besides the clever, LOL writing, what keeps this show jumping is the extra-ordinary and inventive direction and choreography of Susan Stroman recreated on the tour by Jeff Whiting and Clare Cook. The winning orchestrations by Doug Besterman only add to the merriment. And six-time Tony-Award winning William Ivey Long’s original Broadway costumes are a feast for the eyes. I have never seen such pink, pinks nor such eye-popping yellows. It’s like an acid trip without the brain damage. The sets by Jason Ardizzone-West are just so much fun. Who doesn’t want to see a train and a 1920’s jalopy on stage? If you’re a fan of the original movie, then you will be a fan of the show. It’s a great romp!
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