Regional Reviews: Seattle
Bullets Over BroadwayHits and Misses at The Paramount Theatre
The non-union national tour of Bullets Over Broadway is a generally spirited affair made up of a lot of used parts. An adaptation of one of Woody Allen's most revered mid-period movies, it borrows elements and archetypal characters from (among others) Guys and Dolls, Singin' in the Rain, Pennies from Heaven, 42nd Street and The Producers, the last of which Bullets' original Broadway director/choreographer Susan Stroman of course won accolades for. The score contains jazz and popular standards from the years between World War I and about 1930, some of which are familiar and some arcane, with some adapted lyrics by Musical Adapter Glen Kelly. Jeff Whiting recreates the Stroman direction and Clare Cook recreates her choreography with verve and professionalism, yet the overall result, while not bargain basement, is that of a nice secondhand store, which the tireless cast lends distinction to.
Bullets Over Broadway, which hews closely to Allen and Douglas McGrath's screenplay, is an accessible Broadway in-joke affair set in 1929, as playwright David Shayne is finally getting his first play God of Our Fathers produced on Broadway. Producer Julian Marx has enlisted the wealthy gangster Nick Valenti to pay for the show. Valenti wants to have his dim-witted and untalented girlfriend Olive Neal star as one of the leads. Valenti has assigned his strong-armed gangster Cheech to watch over Olive. Surprisingly, Cheech comes up with great ideas for improving the play. However, aging diva Helen Sinclair, the real star of the show, moves in on the younger David, who already has a girlfriend, Ellen. Meanwhile, leading man Warner Purcell has his eye on the dense and despicable Olive.
Michael Williams is somewhat comically underpowered as the increasingly stressed out David, but he sings and dances well, and hits a Donald O'Connor level of fun in "The Panic is On." Emma Stratton is a perfect Broadway star/Vampira as the affected and grand Helen Sinclair, and shines brightest on "I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle" with Williams. Jemma Jane brings frightening comic intensity to Olive and handles her odd novelty "Hot Dog Song" with panache, though the Paramount sound system contorts many of her lines and lyrics, as well as those of co-stars.
Jeffrey Brooks is the cast standout as mobster cum playwright Cheech, and numbers featuring Cheech and his fellow gangsters roused the audience greatly. Running Brooks a close second is Bradley Allen Zarr as the always ready for food Warner Purcell, who shows the kind of comic zeal and musical comedy song and dance panache that seems virtually non-existent nowadays. Hannah Rose Deflumeri does what she can with the generally bland role of David's girlfriend Ellen, then struts her stuff in her act two feature "I've Found A New Baby." Michael Corvino as Nick Valenti is an appropriately menacing mob boss, and Rachel Bahler is cute as a button with a voice to kill as the doggy doting Eden, really picking up the act two opener "There's A New Day Comin'."
Sets and costumes with the appropriate period flair, as well as expert lighting, are modelled on the original Broadway designs by Santo Loquasto, William Ivey Long, and Donald Holder, respectively.
In the end, though, Bullets Over Broadway is an also ran of a show that misfires more than it hits the target, and makes its cast work far harder than they should have to in an effort to elevate shopworn material. My rating is a SWM (Something Was Missing), 2.5 stars, the extra .5 mainly for the cast.
Bullets Over Broadway, through February 7, 2016, at the Seattle Paramount Theatre downtown on 9th and Pine. Go to www.stgptresents.org for tickets and other information. For more information on the tour, visit www.bulletsoverbroadwayontour.com.