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Bullets Over Broadway

a Musical Comedy
by Woody Allen

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Conservatory [WEBSITE]
ID# 5488

SHOWING : April 11, 2019 - April 28, 2019



A struggling writer can finally get his play on Broadway, but it’ll be funded by the mob -- oh, and the boss wants his girlfriend to play the lead. The Golden Age of Broadway, the excess of the Roaring 20s, and the comic genius of Woody Allen come together in a splashy, over-the-top musical delight.

Director James Donadio
Olive Neal Maggie Birgel
Eden Brent LaLa Cochran
Ensemble Fenner Eaddy
Warner Purcell Blake Fountain
Ensemble Bonnie Harris
Nick Valenti Byron Hays
Mitchell Sabine Luis Hernandez
David Shayne Chase Peacock
Ensemble Zach Phelps
Cheech Hayden Rowe
Helen Sinclair Rachel Sorsa
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Four with a Bullet
by playgoer
Monday, May 20, 2019
"Bullets Over Broadway" is yet another jukebox musical and yet another musical based on a recent popular movie. It deals in stereotypes (gangsters, a gangster’s no-talent moll, an aging dipsomaniac diva), all filtered through Woody Allen’s comic perspective. But somehow the magic isn’t quite there, and it’s all the fault of the show itself. Georgia Ensemble’s production is a first-class interpretation of a second-class show.

The score is a collection -- more a grab-bag than a cornucopia -- of period tunes. The finale allows the theatre to re-use leftover banana peel props from "Moonlight and Magnolias," but that’s about all it has going for it. The silliness of the plot isn’t enhanced by the songs, most of which seem to have been shoe-horned into the script. The familiarity of the songs lets the mind wander during the musical numbers rather than reinforcing the dramatic flow. It doesn’t help that the generally fine orchestra led by music director S. Renee Clark uses synth sounds for strings, giving the accompaniment of the more lyrical numbers a diluted feel.

Lighting is also problematic in the show. For a couple of group numbers, Mike Post’s design uses dim light with moving gobos on the downstage floor, not giving Lauren Brooke Tatum’s choreography its due. The two spotlights used, particularly for musical duets, seem to be of different intensities, creating an unevenness of illumination that is quite distracting. The decision to pop the spotlights on at the start of number after number becomes stale. Projections are used a couple of times, cleverly at the start of the show as the title appears on the curtain in rhythm with machine gun blasts, but later with star Helen Sinclair’s name above the proscenium with animation that seems jerky and peculiarly colored.

Aside from that, the show is terrific. Stephanie Polhemus’ set design uses a permanent brick façade behind the proscenium curtain, with the orchestra seated almost invisibly behind a scrim in back of it. Two mirror-image staircase units are moved and rotated to suggest a variety of locales, and other set pieces are moved on and off with alacrity. Emmie Tuttle’s costumes add lots of color to the proceedings. There’s a nice, active flow to the action in James Donadio’s direction.

Ms. Tatum’s choreography is beautifully realized by the cast, with lots of chorine numbers and tap routines that let the ensemble shine. It seems that everyone can sing and everyone can act and everyone can dance. The energy provided by the chorus keeps the show motoring along smoothly.

All the major roles are filled with overflowing talent. Blake Fountain makes for a comically believable over-eating matinee idol, and Byron Hays gives gang boss Nick Valenti an ominous edge. LaLa Cochran lends secondary lead Eden Brent her standard off-kilter humor, and Megan Wheeler plays an often-overlooked love interest with both sweet vulnerability and unyielding backbone. Patrick Coleman does well enough as Julian Marx, although the Jewish content of his role falls flat, and Rachel Sorsa has all the grand manners of a self-impressed fading star. Maggie Birgel plays Olive Neal with all the platinum blonde air-headedness the role requires, proving herself an audience favorite in her every moment onstage.

"Bullets Over Broadway" is a bit unusual in that it has the equivalent of two male leads: playwright David Shayne (Chase Peacock) and gangster/play doctor Cheech (Hayden Rowe). Each has his flaws -- Shayne is a bit self-aggrandizing and Cheech kills for a living -- but they are played by men who have the looks and talent of Broadway leading men. Mr. Peacock has a singing voice like an undulating sea of honey in which one would gladly drown, and he gives the character of David Shayne a nice arc from narcissism to self-knowledge. Mr. Rowe has a more comic arc, from stereotypical gang muscle to budding playwright, but he plays the role straight from start to finish, letting his creamy baritone soften the edges of his macho persona.

James Donadio has put together a show that lets Atlanta musical comedy talent shine brilliantly. The material may not be up to the level of the cast, but the silly plot goes down easily and the terrific singing and dancing make up for just about any shortcoming in lighting and material. In my opinion, the movie of "Bullets Over Broadway" is better than the stage musical, but Georgia Ensemble’s first-rate production may sway your opinion in the opposite direction.


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