Friday, April 11, 2014

In Praise of Bullets Over Broadway's Nick Cordero

Should I start with the good news or the bad news? The good news is that if you like big Susan Stroman dance numbers, Bullets Over Broadway has plenty of them. The other good news is that the show introduces many of us to the talents of Nick Cordero. The bad news is that for a musical comedy, it's not very funny.
Woody Allen wrote the book for this musical version of his 1994 movie of the same name. The backstage story seems like a no-brainer for a Broadway musical. It worked for Kiss Me Kate. But that musical had an original score by Cole Porter. This one uses pre-existing songs from the '20s, the era in which the show takes place. David Shayne (Zach Braff) is a struggling playwright, but gangster Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore) agrees to invest in one of his plays on the condition that Nick's girlfriend Olive (HelĂ©ne York) gets a role. Cheech (Cordero), Olive's bodyguard during rehearsals, has a natural talent for playwriting and starts giving David advice to improve the dialogue. Much like Cheech saves Shayne's play, Cordero saves this one. Whenever he is onstage, the show picks up some energy. He is able to make his jokes land with ease. The others in the cast are not amateurs--it also includes Marin Mazzie as diva Helen Sinclair and a wasted Karen Ziemba who is reduced to carrying around a dog. Even Braff is well-cast as the nebbishy Shayne. But there never seems to be much of a point to anything that is happening. Even though lives are on the line, the stakes never seem that high. Part of that is the lack of an original score, which gives the musical a disjointed feeling of thrown together novelty songs--like the innuendo-heavy "The Hot Dog Song" or the inexplicable closer "Yes, We Have No Bananas."

I enjoy double entendres and old-fashioned musicals, but when what passes for humor is an overeating Brooks Ashmanskas in a fat suit, there are more groans than laughs. That is, until Cheech gets his big number, "Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do," complete with tap-dancing gangsters. If only the rest of the show were that fun.

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