“Bullets Over Broadway,” based on Woody Allen’s 1994 movie about a novice playwright in the 1920s whose show is saved by a mobster, is opening tonight at the St. James Theater. Allen himself is not a novice; this is his sixth show on Broadway. But it is his first high profile musical. (His first and only other musical, in 1960, “A to Z,” lasted just 21 performances.) The new musical, using music from the period, marks Zach Braff’s Broadway debut
What do the critics think?
Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: What would Woody Allen have thought of “Bullets Over Broadway” if he hadn’t written it? Would he have enjoyed this overbearing Broadway musical full of recycled, flat and vulgar jokes; dazzling design; knock-em-over-the-head choreography set to mostly 90-year-old novelty tunes; and a cast of proven talent forced to mug their way to a paycheck? My guess is: Allen would never have been caught dead inside the St. James Theater.
Ben Brantley, New York Times: “occasionally funny but mostly just loud new show…This production, directed in heavy italics by Susan Stroman and featuring a score of 1920s standards and esoterica, is inspired by Mr. Allen’s 1994 film of the same title. It features the same story line, most of the same characters and much of the same dialogue. Yet while the movie was a helium-light charmer, this all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing reincarnation is also all but charm-free….like being head-butted by linebackers. Make that linebackers in blinding sequins.”
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: “Susan Stroman’s energetic direction almost compensates for a weak book and a few key miscastings in Woody Allen’s showbiz tuner.”
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: “The book is funny, the staging inventive, the cast outstanding, the sets and costumes satisfyingly slick. All that’s missing is a purpose-written score, in place of which we get period-true arrangements of pop songs of the 1920s and ’30s. Does that matter? It did to me—a lot—but I doubt that many other people will boggle over the absence of original songs from “Bullets Over Broadway.” Except for a flabby finale, it has the sweet scent of a box-office smash.”
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: There’s a ton of talent onstage in Bullets Over Broadway, evident in the leggy chorines who ignite into explosive dance routines, the gifted cast, the sparkling design elements and the wraparound razzle-dazzle of director-choreographer Susan Stroman‘s lavish production. So why does this musical, adapted by Woody Allen from his irresistible 1994 screen comedy about the tortured path of the artist, wind up shooting blanks? 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.
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: Stroman’s staging moves with an effervescent fluidity — gangsters and flappers glide by, each in high Cotton Club style — yet the book isn’t as spry. Scenes that could be distilled into a few lines are belabored. For all the frenetic Jazz Age motion, the show feels dramatically sluggish. Something’s slightly out of whack with the performances. There’s some strong singing (Mazzie and Ziemba are vocal standouts), some expert clowning (Ashmanskas really knows how to chomp on a drumstick while selling a musical number) and some solid acting (Braff’s characterization has a few extra notes of authenticity), but only in Cordero’s performance do all three strengths triumphantly merge.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: A- “From [the] rat-a-tat start to the utterly bananas finale, Susan Stroman produces one of the sprightliest and most effervescent new musicals in years….captures the screwball spirit of the time period while remaining entirely fresh and new”
Brendan Lemon, Financial Times, 3 stars out of 5: “Helen Sinclair, portrayed by the wonderfully self-assured Marin Mazzie, is one of the reasons to see Bullets Over Broadway, the new musical birthed by Woody Allen from his 1994 movie of the same title. The Broadway show makes a Sinclair-sized effort to persuade us of the value of early-20th-century songs shoehorned into a 1929 setting. The attempt is intermittently enjoyable, extremely well crafted by the director/choreographer Susan Stroman, and progressively unthrilling.”
Robert Kahn, NBCNewYork: terrific new screwball thriller from perfectionist duo Susan Stroman and Woody Allen….While not without some curious choices, “Bullets” is certainly the best of the musicals to open on Broadway so far this season, though make note … it’s a new musical with old music.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap Stroman gave us dancing elephant buttocks in “Big Fish” earlier this Broadway season. In “Bullets,” she gives us very large dancing hot dogs, and a vendor selling frankfurters of various lengths and girths. The number achieves a level of low vulgarity not encountered even among the non-stop obscenities of “The Book of Mormon.”
Matthew Murray, Talkin Broadway: Whatever else it may be, Bullets Over Broadway certainly isn’t cohesive….The best Woody Allen comedies, Susan Stroman musicals, and revues are characterized by excitement, innovation, and integration. And these are just what Bullets Over Broadway, however strongly it evokes its individual components, lacks most.
Meanwhile, here are photographs from the production:
Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.