REVIEW: Bullets Over Broadway at Academy of Music

This zany musical from Woody Allen and Susan Stroman isn't meant to be taken seriously, but it can be a whole lotta fun.

Michael Williams and Emma Stratton (Photo by Matthew Murphy).

Michael Williams and Emma Stratton | Photo by Matthew Murphy

Olive, a stripper who wants to be a serious actress, says this of her previous stage experience in the musical Bullets Over Broadway: “I call it interpretive dance: The audience interpreted it one way and the Catholic Church interpreted it another.”

That’s the kind of zany gag that fills the nearly three-hour Woody Allen/Susan Stroman musical which kicked off the Broadway Philadelphia season last evening. The original Broadway production, which opened in April 2014 and closed five months later, earned a half-dozen Tony nominations. This touring show, which recreates Stroman’s signature choreography, highlights some emerging musical theater talent, although the play itself isn’t terribly well-crafted or thoughtful.

But then again, it’s pretty aware that it’s a silly, frivolous musical that doesn’t take itself seriously. Murders committed by the characters are laughed at by the audience, and there’s actually applause when poor Olive meets a certain undesirable fate. In short, it’s a show that’s meant to be a bit thoughtless: A young writer gets his big break to direct his own show on Broadway. The problem? It’s being financed by mob money, and the lead mobster wants Olive as the lead.

The cast of "Bullets Over Broadway." Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The cast of “Bullets Over Broadway.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

As previously mentioned, there were some extremely strong performances, particularly from Penn State alum Emma Stratton who played the alcoholic nymphomaniac Helen Sinclair, an aging diva who comes across between a mix of Glenn Close playing Norma Desmond and Julie Andrews. Also receiving a healthy reception was Jeffrey Brooks, who plays mobster-turned-playwright Cheech, a “bad guy” that everyone sort of falls in love with.

Stroman’s choreography, recreated by Clare Cooke, was a strong highlight of the show, as ensemble members performed variations of the Charleston throughout the evening with grace and style. However, the orchestra overpowered the actors on stage several times; hopefully with continued runs, this issue will be addressed.

Overall, Bullets Over Broadway is an easy, lighthearted way to kick off the Broadway season here in Philly. And, hey, any show that has a full musical number dedicated to comparing a man’s penis size to a hot dog isn’t meant to be taken too seriously to begin with, right?

‘Bullets Over Broadway’ runs at the Academy of Music through November 1. For tickets and more information, visit the Kimmel Center website.

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