“Bullets Over Broadway” Musical- Love the Artist or the Man?


The announcement that Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning comedy, “Bullets over Broadway,” would be produced as a Broadway musical divided potential audiences long before the first rehearsal took place. Mr. Allen is very controversial. His detractors abhor and avoid any production that has his name on it. His many admirers dismiss such complaints. And general audiences that can compartmentalize the man and his art were excited to see that a new Broadway musical, penned by Mr. Allen and directed by the amazing Susan Stroman, would be opening. One of the central questions asked by the protagonist in the “Bullets Over Broadway” musical is, “Do you love the artist or do you love the man?” The question could not have been more appropriate for audiences to consider before buying tickets.

A Mixed Review

 Bullets Over Broadway musical

Zach Braff and Marin Mazzie

The “Bullets Over Broadway” musical is neither great nor terrible. Many of the charms of Woody Allen’s original script are on display. The story centers around a bohemian playwright (Zach Braff) who refuses to cater to public taste, insisting that his work never be altered. In order to get his play produced, he has to accept the financial backing of a gangster who sees it as an opportunity to let his sexy but talent-less girlfriend appear on Broadway. Another gangster, Cheech (Nick Cordero),  is assigned to be a bodyguard but ends up helping the playwright by rewriting the script to popular taste. In the film version, the laughs were gentle and the pace built over time. In a Susan Stroman musical, the numbers start big and loud and get bigger and longer. For all the energy of the cast and the fast pace of the direction, the show comes on as too heavy. The witty dialogue gets buried.

Casting Questions

 Bullets Over Broadway musical

Nick Cordero & The Men Bringing Down The House

One of the problems with the “Bullets Over Broadway” musical lies in the casting. In almost every Woody Allen comedy there is a character is either played by Mr. Allen or played as if he was Mr. Allen. In the “Bullets Over Broadway” musical, that role falls to Zach Braff. Fans of his from the TV show “Scrubs” know that he is a good singer as well as charming and charismatic in a neurotic, boyish way. That makes him perfect for the lead. However, especially in the song selection, he doesn’t seem to be the lead. He carries the comedy well but only rarely is given a chance to shine in the musical numbers. Marin Mazzie, a wonderful Broadway actress whom I have enjoyed in a number of other shows, seems miscast and misdirected here. So do several of the other performers, most notably Karen Ziemba. It appeared they had trouble either connecting with the material or with the tone. There were several standouts, however. Appropriate for a slick gangster, Nick Cordero stole every scene he was in. Betsy Wolfe brought down the house with her wondrous voice in the small role of the playwright’s wife. And Vincent Pastore (from The Sopranos) brought great comic timing.

No Original Music; Very Original Costumes And Staging

The “Bullets Over Broadway” musical used no original music whatsoever. All of the songs were pieces from the 1920s. Some were wonderfully well-produced and performed, especially anything featuring Nick Cordero and the men. Others seemed poorly integrated into the show. Of course, any Susan Stroman show will be dance heavy. The choreography was terrific, especially in a view, numbers such as a risqué one involving hot dogs.

 Bullets Over Broadway musical

Helene York

The sets were very nicely executed and the costuming deserves a special nod. The costume designer, the fabulous William Ivey Long, managed to create costumes that were both period appropriate and glamorous when needed, such as when he was dressing the female stars:

 Bullets Over Broadway musical

The female leads of “Bullets Over Broadway” musical

And at other times the costumes were hilarious caricatures, appropriate to the comic tone of the scene.

Should You See It?

Overall, I enjoyed the “Bullets Over Broadway” musical. The TKTS booth was offering main seat tickets at a 50% discount for a Saturday evening performance. That doesn’t bode well for the long-term future of the show. Your preconception of the artist and of the man will probably guide your choice. Obviously, if you’re a fan of Woody Allen, you should love the musical. I can’t rave about it, nor can I dismiss it. It has moments that I will long remember with a smile and that I’ve already forgotten a week later.

Click here to see the complete cast and creative team for the “Bullets Over Broadway” musical.


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