Based on the 1994 Woody Allen dark comedy, "Bullets Over Broadway The Musical" takes a story about mobsters mixing with the cast of a Broadway show and weaves in classic songs from the Jazz Age, creating an amusing, frisky musical that had the opening-night audience at Foothill College hooting and hollering.
Fans of "Guys and Dolls," "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Producers" will find common ground in "Bullets Over Broadway," which takes place in 1929 New York City. Struggling playwright David Shayne (Adam Cotugno) lives the life of a starving artist with his long-suffering girlfriend Ellen (Allie Townsend) and thinks his big break might finally be near. He's sure his new play is a masterpiece and Broadway producer Julian Marx (Aaron Hurley) has secured a financial backer in big-shot gangster Nick (Steve Repetti). Nick has one condition before forking over the cash: His wannabe-actress paramour Olive (Jocelyn Pickett) needs to be given a significant role. Desperate to have his work on the Great White Way, David agrees, despite Olive being utterly, aggressively untalented. Part of the bargain also involves Nick's goon Cheech (Nick Mandracchia) tagging along to keep tabs on Olive. David thinks the deal may be worth it, especially when the production scores glamorous diva Helen Sinclair (Carla Befera) to play the starring role and dashing Warner Purcell (Andrew Ross) as her leading man. Of course, these stars have issues of their own. Helen is an egotistical alcoholic and Warner is a ladies man with a compulsive eating problem and a waistline prone to expansion. Another quirky cast member, Eden Brent (Caitlin Papp), tends to speak in Pig Latin and dote obsessively on her tiny dog, Mister Woofles (played by the adorable, adoptable Pets in Need rescue pup Cardi).
Once his cast is assembled, David has another, bigger problem. While he is convinced that his work is brilliant, everyone else agrees it's a bit of a stinker: dull, cerebral and full of overwrought, clunky dialogue. Unexpected help comes from the seemingly oafish Cheech, who turns out to have a natural talent for playwriting. With Cheech's changes, the script becomes a winner, but David has a hard time accepting any ghost writer, much less a murderous mobster, especially one who seems to be growing more and more invested in the production. He also finds himself torn between patient Ellen and seductive Helen (yes, it's funny that their names rhyme). As opening day approaches, David spirals into a morality crisis: Does ending up with great art justify nefarious means? And can one separate the art from the artist (an especially interesting question from a work by Woody Allen, whose own personal life is rife with icky accusations)?
"Bullets Over Broadway," directed at Foothill by Milissa Carey, is successful in large part due to the delightfulness of its music: glorious period songs including "Let's Misbehave," "I've Found a New Baby" and "Tiger Rag." Some have lyrics adapted by Glen Kelly to better suit the plot while others are used in clever ways, such as Cheech crooning the beautiful "Up A Lazy River" whenever he's en route to dump a body into the Gowanus Canal, or threatening Warner to stay away from Olive in "There'll Be Some Changes Made." Sure, a few of the numerous songs are superfluous (I'm looking at you, "Yes! We Have No Bananas") but it's all toe-tapping fun, led with aplomb by Louis Lagalante and the rest of the small but punchy orchestra.
I'm always excited to see Jocelyn Pickett's name in a program. With exquisite vocals and incredible comic timing, she absolutely dominates any scene she's in, and the Lohman Theatre is intimate enough for the audience to see all of her hilarious facial reactions. The character of obnoxious Olive could easily be unbearable but Pickett is a joy to watch. Mandracchia, as her nemesis, is similarly excellent, charming even as his dirty deeds pile up and bearing a lovely voice. Pretentious David is not a particularly likeable character and as an audience member I was not very concerned with his fate. I loved watching Cotugno, though, who's very funny as the nerdy, anxiety-ridden playwright. Repetti is endearing as the ruthless mob boss with a tender heart (and sweet singing voice), while Befera and Ross are also effectively endearing. The role of Ellen is a rather thankless and dull one for much of the show but the character becomes more lively toward the end. Townsend is very good throughout, delivering her songs with spirit.
The jazzy numbers naturally lend themselves to splashy dance routines (tap especially) and while the ensemble does its best, the dance sequences are the-least polished aspect. Still great fun to watch, though, especially in the ridiculous "I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll."
The 1920s show-biz setting means costume designer Sharon Peng can have a ball with wardrobe and hairstyles and the rotating set is put to great use when depicting the cast members in various train cars.
Not every joke lands (and Helen's "Don't speak!" catch phrase grows tired quickly), but with zippy pacing, strong principals and a great selection of vintage tunes, "Bullets Over Broadway" hits the target.
What: "Bullets Over Broadway The Musical"
Where: Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.
When: Through March 17, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Info: Go to foothill.edu/theatre/productions.
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