‘Bullets over Broadway’ fails to hit bullseye

April 17, 2014

via Broadway.com

watch a piece of theater that misses the mark, especially when it comes close to realizing its goals. Unfortunately “Bullets Over Broadway,” the newest Broadway musical from director Susan Stroman, is one of these plays that did not hit the bullseye. The combination of Woody Allen’s witty and colorful book with a tired score piled together from the American Songbook creates a feeling of emptiness behind the showy glitz of the visually stunning production.

On its surface, “Bullets” seems like an easy hit: it is a theater production about theater, with legends of stage and screen at the helm. On most levels, it fully uses its talent. The cast, led by Broadway newcomer and all-around charmer Zach Braff, knocks the New York quickness of Allen’s words out of the park with grace.

Helene York shines as Olive, the beautiful and talentless girlfriend of a gangster. Nick Cordero, who plays Cheech — the actual genius behind the script that Zach Braff’s character Dave has been struggling to perfect — stands out as well. These two hold their ground among stars with resumes two and three times longer than their own. They provide the heart behind what could be caricatures, humanizing even the least relatable characters.

The design, the crowning point of which is undeniably William Ivey Long’s beautiful and intricate costume work, stands out in this impressive season, even contending with technical giants like “Rocky.” And Allen’s book, bolstered by his intimate experience with penning the film of the same name, is a joy to experience.

However, Stroman’s direction could leave Allen fans feeling a bit jilted. Stroman seemed to struggle with the material at times, finding difficulty in balancing the cinematic and theatrical as well as the intimate and extravagant. Moments that had the potential to be significant were brief, while less important instances were given more time and felt instinctively wrong.

The uninspired score stitches together songs from the likes of Cole Porter and the Gershwins. The songs do not bolster interactions or serve much purpose at all — they often feel more like pieces of scenery rather than exchanges between actual people.

While “Bullets Over Broadway” could be better, it is still a funny, sweet and entertaining show. With endearing characters, witty one-liners and plot twists to send one reeling, “Bullets” earns its place in audiences’ hearts.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 17 print edition. Alys Murray is a contributing writer. Email her at theater@nyunews.com.

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