4/24/2019 BULLETS OVER BROADWAY Georgia Ensemble Theatre
****½ ( A )
AN OFFER WE CAN'T REFUSE
Woody Allen's 1994 comedy, Bullets Over Broadway, was basically a valentine to Broadway and movie nerds. Young playwright catches a break and must keep the "break" from breaking his kneecaps. In 2014, Mr. Allen adapted his screenplay into a musical, eschewing fresh songs for a plethora of hits from the 1920's and 1930's, some of which are obscure enough to seem new (ish), some very familiar, some even evoking other gangster (ish) movies, particularly, the Act One finale, "Runnin' Wild," which is impossible to hear without visualizing Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot. Fans of anachronisms will especially enjoy the recognizable melody (written 30 - ish - years later) that create a few doorbell cues.
This production is pure delight, a dream of a musical that entertains, enchants, and explodes across the Georgia Ensemble stage.
Just to give a more complete recap of the plot, Nick Valenti is a businessman ("My business is It's none of your business") with a floozy of an Olive who wants to be a "serious" actress ("I want to do Lady Macbeth again, this time without pasties!"). Enter David Shayne, a young playwright of serious demeanor and artful pretension, whose previous work has been "butchered by directors and actors." Valenti agrees to bankroll David's latest if Olive gets
a part, even if it's not the lead. That honor goes to faded diva Helen Sinclair. But Olive does come with a caveat. Well, with a Cheech, a Valenti goon who acts as Olive's "baby sitter." Turns out, Cheech is a better writer than David, and that's when ... y'know, I want to say, "when the fun begins," but this whole confection is delightfully fun from the get-go.
Along the way, we hear lively songs by the likes of Cole Porter, "Fats" Waller, and Hoagy Carmichael, not to mention that old football favorite, "Tiger Rag." All fit seamlessly and naturally into the story, and, though they sometimes seem like filler (a 90-minute movie turns into a 150-minute musical with little or no plot expansion), they are always welcome and always sweetly sensational.
It helps that James Donadio directs with the pace of a machine-gun, that Lauren Tatum choreographs in an athletic, period-specific style, and that S. Renee Clark music-directs with a keen ear for harmony and character, and with an obvious fondness for the period. It helps that Mike Post lights with a full palette of color and a full spectrum of timing and tempi, and that Stephanie Polhemus's set is a fluid wonder of simplicity and practicality.
As to the cast, Chase Peacock brings to David an innocence (in spite of his somewhat jaded and "dickish" edges) that recalls Woody Allen's neurotic characters without slavishly copying them. Rachel Sorsa may be too young to play an aging diva, but her Helen Sinclair is a comic gem, a full array of insecurities that fail to hide the raw talent that goes into the making of a legend.* Hayden Rowe is marvelous as Cheech, constantly surprising, always compelling. If Maggie Birgel's Olive is a stereotypical floozy, she is nevertheless memorable, and her single-entendre number "The Hot Dog Man" is a goofy delight. Also turning in excellent performances are Megan Wheeler as David's neglected girl friend Ellen, Byron Mays as Nick Valenti **, Blake Fountain as the food-obsessed leading ham Warner Purcell, and Lala Cochran as the igpay atinlay alkingtay Eden Brent.
It would be so easy to casually dismiss this piece, citing thin characters, by-the-numbers situations, old-timey music and attitudes, and even Woody Allen's somewhat toxic reputation. But that would be a shame, because, as I said at the top, this story is a wet-dream wallow for theatre and movie lovers. Putting it together with these memorable melodies turns it into a rapturous joy and a total delight.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #getBulletsOverBroadway)
* Easter Egg Alert: Fans of the movie should enjoy Helen's "Don't Sing" moment.
** No relation to long-time MPAA President Jack Valenti. Probably.