Only time will tell for sure how history will treat the last new musical of the season . Will it be greeted with the critical orgasm Susan Stroman's The Producers got, only to be seriously tempered by the realization that, by and large, it was the original cast that really made that otherwise pedestrian show work? Or will critics (and audiences) recognize that Bullets Over Broadway is really a slick retread of that other show (and many others) that isn't as funny, clever or thrilling as it thinks it is? When all is said and done, what will this mostly boring Woody Allen musical be remembered for? Will it be the hot dog song and dance number? Or maybe it'll be the most ridiculous, inane finale ever conceived for the stage? Or will it be the already infamous "Irving Berlin" joke? My guess is probably the joke, but it hasn't even been a week since I've seen it, and I can't wait to finally forget the whole thing.
There are three things that are above average about Bullets (otherwise, I'd have given it a much lower grade). The scenery, designed by Santo Loquasto, is stunning. Always nice to look at, and full of fun surprises, it manages to be old-fashioned - in the very best sense of the word - and still period-appropriate, and interestingly enough, also kind of modern. Similarly, William Ivey Long's lavish, painstakingly detailed and very plentiful costumes are a sight to behold. I would be disappointed if they weren't both at least Tony nominees. And last but not least, actor Nick Cordero (himself a likely Tony nominee) who, as gangster-hit-man Cheech, rises above the banality of his role to deliver a character that we can fear a little, and love a lot. He's the very definition of "triple-threat": a fine comedic actor, a great character singer, and one heck of a hoofer. And since he has to play most of his scenes against a one-note loudmouth, it's all even more remarkable.
Lenny Wolpe is the slightly nervous, pragmatic yes-man-Broadway producer. Vincent Pastore is the gruff gangster (and he does his very best comic version of his Sopranos shtick). I can't imagine why - other than she needed the job to keep her AEA insurance - Tony-winner Karen Ziemba would even take on the thankless role of ditsy Broadway second banana. I'll give her credit for handling her dog duties (Trixie) with aplomb. Brooks Ashmanskas does a better than decent job with the typical hoity-toity actor who isn't as good as he thinks he is, and Ashmanskas gets a few bonus points for being a human sight gag, and extra credit for going through with it, even though the joke gets less funny as the night wears on. Betsy Wolfe is close to terrific - she nails her big solo - but never really gets to do much with a poorly written role.
|Braff and Mazzie|
|Pastore and Yorke|
But to be fair, Ms. Yorke, and everyone else in it, can only do so much with the material they have to work with. No, the music isn't to blame - most of the songs, save for the horrid finale, fit the show. And between the added/changed lyrics by Glen Kelly, and the vast majority of them being unfamiliar to most of us, it may as well be a new score. The blame lays almost solely at the feet of Mr. Allen, who has done nothing from what I can tell besides cram a bunch of cliches and stock characters from old movies and old TV variety shows into one story. And all of it with a slimy layer of off color jokes that are less funny and even less titillating. There is nothing tongue-in-cheek or even clever about about the multitude of dirty jokes; instead, they give off the whiff of skeezy, perverted humor. I picture him writing this and giggling over each line like a young adolescent sneaking a peek at his dad's hidden Playboy.
A lot of the people I saw the show with seemed to really enjoy it. But the after show chatter revealed very mixed reviews. Maybe audiences will see Bullets Over Broadway for what I think it really is. Like my father always says: a shiny turd is still a turd.
Photos by Paul Kolnik