Review Roundup: ‘Bullets Over Broadway’

Bullets Over Broadway, the musical version of Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning 1994 film comedy about a playwright forced to cast a mobster’s talent-free girlfriend in order to get his show produced, opened at the St. James Theater on April 10. Five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman (The Producers, Oklahoma!) directs and choreographs while Allen wrote the book based on the screenplay which he co-authored with Doug McGrath. The score consists of songs from the 1920s. The show stars Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State), Tony nominee Marin Mazzie (Kiss Me Kate, Ragtime), Nick Cordero (The Toxic Avenger), Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos), Tony winner Karen Ziemba (Contact), Helene Yorke (Grease), Brooks Ashmanskas (The Producers), Betsy Wolfe (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), and Lenny Wolpe (Old Jews Telling Jokes).

The critical reaction was split right down the middle. Half of the reviewers loved the goofy approach to the story, Stroman’s staging, and the integration of the Jazz Age songs. The other half found the humor forced and the tunes shoehorned into Allen’s book.

Those in the cheering section include Linda Winer of Newsday, Elysa Garnder of USA Today, David Cote of Time Out New York, and Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post, who called the show “a sterling musical comedy.” On the negative side are Ben Brantley of the New York Times, David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter, Marilyn Stasio of Variety, and Joe Dziemianowicz of the NY Daily News, who labeled it “middle of the road.” Here are excerpts from the major critics.

The new musical 'Bullets Over Broadway' (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

The new musical ‘Bullets Over Broadway,’ starring Zach Braff (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Ben Brantley, New York Times
“The experience of watching the film was like being tickled, gently but steadily, into a state of mounting hysteria. From the get-go, the musical version, which stars a credible Zach Braff (doing Mr. Allen) and a misused Marin Mazzie (doing Norma Desmond), feels more like being head-butted by linebackers. Make that linebackers in blinding sequins.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News
“[W]orking in tandem with Allen, who adapted the screenplay of his Oscar-winning 1994 comedy while dealing with anything-but-amusing personal issues, Stroman doesn’t match the zany, out-of-this-world wow factor of her collaboration with Mel Brooks on The Producers – though a tip of the hat goes to the tastelessly delicious dancing-hot-dog number.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Woody Allen’s adaptation of his 1994 movie checks all the boxes: zingers and puns, slapstick and visual gags, leggy showgirls and tap-dancing chorus boys, hammy stars and lavish set pieces. This is defiantly old-fashioned entertainment, and boy does it hit the spot!”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Everything works here: The dances are inspired, the costumes rock, the sets are sharp and the use of slightly tweaked existing classic jazz and blues standards as the soundtrack is inspired. Even the casting, which initially seemed odd, ends up pretty spot-on, with a mixture of newbies and veterans.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“The show takes a while to hit its stride, feeling competent but mechanical at first, as if the job could only get done if everyone bellows and hard-sells the lamest jokes. But once inspiration strikes—and it eventually does—the smartly cast, good-looking production relaxes into the confidence of its own gleeful, high-gloss ridiculousness.”

Elysa Garnder, USA Today
“But it’s Stroman who makes this baby sing and dance, not just literally but spiritually. The playful wit and exuberance that were stifled by the material in her last Main Stem outing, Big Fish, are in full force here, and are supported by performers and designers (among the latter the great William Ivey Long, whose costumes are especially scrumptious) who seem to never run out of steam.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“Thanks to a smashing cast (Brooks Ashmanskas as a corpulent leading man and adorable Betsy Wolfe as David’s long-suffering girlfriend) and Stroman’s steady hand on the tiller, Allen’s moral comes through neatly: Human life trumps art, whether you’re a pretentious scribe or an unexpectedly gifted thug. Old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing and built to run, Bullets is high caliber and hits the spot.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“Flat where it should be frothy, the show is a watered-down champagne cocktail that too seldom gets beyond its recycled jokes and second-hand characterizations to assert an exciting new identity.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Surprisingly, though, the book (from Allen’s own screenplay for his 1994 film) is feeble on laughs, and certain key performers don’t seem comfortable navigating the earthy comic idiom of burlesque. So, let’s call it close—but no cigar.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“From that rat-a-tat start to the utterly bananas finale, director-choreographer Susan Stroman produces one of the sprightliest and most effervescent new musicals in years.”

Roma Torre, New York-1 News
“The talent pool is huge for this film-to-stage-adaptation: Susan Stroman, Woody Allen, Marin Mazzie, Karen Ziemba and Zach Braff certainly raise the bar of expectations. And maybe it’s too high because Bullets Over Broadway The Musical misses more than it hits.”

Steven Suskin, Huffington Post
“When the music starts up, for the most part, it seems as if Allen has figuratively slipped out to the lobby for a smoke. A dandy story with incidental songs does not make a satisfying musical comedy, even in the final phase of this less-than-exhilarating Broadway season.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“Zach Braff works too hard at portraying the stressed-out playwright. His singing voice is pretty thin as well. On the other hand, Marin Mazzie is ideally cast as the grandly theatrical Sinclair, and Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos is effortlessly effective as Valenti.”

 

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