Bullets Over Broadway
Through July 29
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
Early in Bullets Over Broadway now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse playwright David Shayne and a group of artist friends are discussing a hypothetical situation; If a building was burning down and the choice had to be made to save a person or the last remaining copy of the works of Shakespeare what would you choose to do? Shane and most of his friends said they would save the Shakespeare, as art was more important than the life of just one person. Later in the play he would be tested on this question and find the decision to be a bit more complicated.
Bullets Over Broadway is adapted from the 1994 Woody Allen film of the same. It has been turned into a musical, and after seeing both the movie and this fine production I have concluded it should have been a musical from the outset.
It does not have an original score. The music consists of catchy tunes from the period between World War I and II. Some of the songs will be familiar to the audience and some are fairly obscure. The music adds an atmosphere that was missing in the movie. It works and works well.
Playwright David Shayne, played with just the right amount of angst and comedy by the very talented John Rochette, has agreed reluctantly to compromise some of his artistic integrity by allowing the girlfriend of mob boss Nick Valenti to have a role in his play in exchange for having the gangster bankroll the production. Vincent Pastore, reprising his role from the original Broadway version of Bullets, is ideal as the man who takes time between musical numbers such as Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You sung to his ditzy girlfriend Olive played by Jemma Jane, to order hits on his enemies.
Ms Jane is a hoot when she sings The Hot Dog Song, a saucy piece filled with double entendres and some interesting moves on her part. She appears to relish her role as the not so bright Olive. It is all such fun.
Reed Campbell is positively outstanding as Cheech, (“Not Mr. Cheech, it’s just Cheech.”), Valenti’s top hitman, who has been charged with keeping an eye on Olive as she attends rehearsals for the play. Cheech still finds time to make a hit while tending to Olive. There is an interesting scene where he and an accomplice take a victim for a ride while singing Up A Lazy River. Sure, it’s morbid, but it is also very funny.
Meanwhile, Shayne seems to be at peace with the deal he has made now that leading lady Helen Sinclair (Michele Ragusa) has agreed to star in his play. That peace is soon disrupted when he hears Olive rehearsing her lines with a voice that makes him cringe. He lights up the stage with I’m Sitting On Top Of The World. Mr. Rochette shows great chops as a song and dance man as he moves about the stage. He is very good.
Ms Ragusa does a fabulous job as the aging diva with a touch of Sunset Boulevard mixed in. Using an overly dramatic theatrical voice she is funny without becoming a caricature. She and Mr. Rochette are delightful singing There’s a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway.
One of the high points of the play, and there are many, is when Cheech and his fellow gangsters perform the song and dance number, Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do, Reed Campbell was absolutely fantastic with this high energy number and had many in the audience on their feet by the end. Campbell is an amazing talent who time and again wowed the crowd at the Playhouse.
In this interesting and funny story we see Cheech taking over authorship of the play as Shayne has to deal with having compromised his artistic integrity. Along the way we are treated to dancing hot dogs, an amazing set consisting of New York City rooftops, a train, vintage car, an actor who is also a compulsive eater who gives new meaning to growing into a part, and wonderful lighting. We are also gifted with the amazing Sally Struthers as Eden Brent who appears with her dog who also displays great acting ability. Ms Struthers take the stage in Ogunquit each season and never disappoints. She is the master of comedic timing.
This production is directed by Jeff Whiting who worked closely with Susan Stroman on the original production. He has recreated that direction and choreography for this show.
I want to add that both John Rochette and Reed Campbell are extraordinarily talented young actors. Having them share the stage with such experienced actors as Vincent Pastore and Sally Struthers is great to see. Both of these men have promising careers ahead of them. I could also say this about the entire cast. Everyone was wonderful. You could just feel the energy and excitement as it spilled into the audience. This is musical theatre at it’s best. It is the Ogunquit Playhouse at its best.
I rarely am disappointed by a show at the Playhouse, though there have been a few that aren’t on my see again list. But, the vast majority are extremely good. Bullets Over Broadway ranks as one of the best I have ever seen there. I strongly recommend you get to Ogunquit and see this production. I have a feeling tickets will be selling fast so I would not hesitate.
Oh, David Shayne finds he has a different answer to the question of whether or not to choose Shakespeare over the life of a human being when he is faced by the choice Cheech makes with dealing with Olive dragging the play down. It turns out Cheech has more artistic integrity, but David has found his humanity.
Bullets Over Broadway
Though July 29
The Ogunquit Playhouse