Book: Woody Allen
Music adaptation and Additional Lyrics: Glen Kelly
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Broadway and the business of show have always been popular subjects for musicals. The Producers, Crazy for You, Singin’ in the Rain and Kiss Me Kate all successfully found drama and, more to the point comedy in the staging (or filming) of a musical. Interestingly, Bullets Over Broadway has elements that are reminiscent of all of the aforementioned musicals (plus dashes of Some Like It Hot and Guys &Dolls) but even more interestingly is that it maintains an individuality all of its own. This can in no small part be attributed to the writer of the piece – Mr Woody Allen.
This CD gives an excellent flavour of Allen’s new musical based on his 1994 movie of the same name. David Shayne (Zach Braff) is a ‘serious’ playwright in pre-crash 1929 New York who is thrilled when his new play finds a backer. Unfortunately this turns out to be gangster Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore) who is only bank-rolling the production to give his talentless moll Olive (Helene Yorke) a starring rôle. Complications arrive in the form of Shayne’s infatuation with aging diva Helen Sinclair (Marin Mazzie), Olive’s dalliances with leading man Warner Purcell (Brooks Ashmanskas) and Valenti’s henchman Cheech’s (Nick Cordero) involvement in re-writing – and improving – Shayne’s script.
All of the cast are superb. Braff plays a rôle that no doubt would have been filled ten years ago by Matthew Broderick although Braff possesses a much stronger and pleasing baritone. Mazzie throws herself completely over the top and Ashmanskas channels Noel Coward – both with amusing results. Stealing the show is Yorke as the monstrous Olive. Coming across like an over-sexed Lena Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain, her numbers are hilarious and laden with double entendres: The Hot Dog Song is as suggestive as the title suggests!. This CD can only leave the listener to imagine Susan Stroman’s choreography and direction although Allen’s script appears in the form of some wonderful one-liners dotted throughout the numbers (“Marriage is a very serious decision – like suicide”)
The use of existing songs from the Great American Songbook of the ‘20s seems initially lazy and disappointing. However, the chosen numbers range from iconic to obscure and Glen Kelly’s stunning musical adaptations give them all a fresh musical sparkle. When necessary Kelly adapts the lyrics to be both relevant and witty (They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me) while other songs are left untouched and naturally fit (She’s Funny That Way) or are used ironically (Cheech sings Up A Lazy River while dumping a body). The newly interpolated lyrics can at times be so funny that one suspects that Allen may have a hand in them himself – and if he didn’t, then Mr Kelly has a way with words that certainly rivals the master.
The choice of finale song – Yes, We Have No Bananas – acts almost as a Looney Tunes “that’s all folks” and leaves the listener with no doubt that this show is an unashamedly old-fashioned treat that has but one aim: to leave a great, big grin across your face. Mission accomplished! This CD really is an offer you can’t refuse.