Review: Bullets Over Broadway (Broadway in Chicago)

| April 24, 2016

Kaylee Olson, Carissa Fiorillo and Elizabeth Dugas in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway Chicago           

Bullets Over Broadway

Written by Woody Allen
Based on screenplay by Douglas McGrath
PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
thru May 1  |  tix: $19-$85   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Crass, cartoonish waste of money


cast of Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway in Chicago

Broadway in Chicago presents
Bullets Over Broadway

Review by Catey Sullivan 

The non-Equity tour of Bullets Over Broadway presents one of the great, enduring questions of show business. It’s actually a two-part query, one that has bedeviled people since the Greeks, and one that will be asked for for time immemorial. Why does this show exist and who in the name of all things theatrical thought it was a good idea? Don’t expect any answers from the Bullets Over Broadway’s national tour, on stage at the PrivateBank Theatre through May 1.

Bradley Allan Zarr and Jemma Jane in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway ChicagoActually, I take that back. The answer is quite clear in regards to this bizarre, cartoonish musicalization of the 1994 movie of the same name. That answer is money. One can make a bunch of it by paying the artists involved non-Equity wages but charging the audience Equity level ticket prices. Especially if you boldface famed Tony-winning Broadway director/choreographer Susan Stroman in your marketing materials.

Stroman, it should be noted, was the choreographer and director of the 2014 Broadway production of Bullets Over Broadway, which opened on April 10 and closed 14 days later. For this touring production, Stroman’s dances and direction have been “recreated” by choreographer Clare Cook and director Jeff Whiting. And whereas Stroman’s original cast was an ensemble of top-tier Broadway vets, there’s not a single Broadway credit to be found in the Bullets Over Broadway touring cast. (Which isn’t to say they’re all awful. But you shouldn’t buy a ticket thinking you’re getting Susan Stroman and a cast of actual Broadway actors.)

By the time Bullets Over Broadway wraps up (with a bizarre, has-absolutely-nothing-to-do-with-anything-else-in-the-show rendition of “Yes, We Have No Bananas”) it’s abundantly clear why the show lasted less than three weeks on Broadway. The plot and the characters make “Disney Princesses on Ice” look like a magnum opus by Chekhov. And the musical numbers – drawn from composers of the 1929-set show’s era – have about as much to do with the “plot” as a three-legged hedgehog has to do with the price of Peking Duck in Chinatown.’’

Emma Stratton in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway Chicago Jeff Brooks as Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway ChicagoBullets Over Broadway cast, Broadway Chicago

The story centers on David (Michael Williams), a thoroughly unlikable and equally forgettable pretentious twit of an aspiring playwright. He gets his big break when a New York mobster agrees to finance his play, on the condition that said mobster’s goilfriend Olive (everyone talks with cartoon New Yawk accents) gets a part. Olive (Jemma Jane) is basically a poor woman’s Lina Lemont, who dances in a club with the Atta Girls, a group of chorines that are basically poor womens’ Hot Box girls. Olive is predictably awful In David’s play. So, apparently, is the play itself. It improves thanks to the extensive rewrites of Cheech (Jeff Brooks), a mobster henchman who we must believe has a gift for populist realism.

Throughout, Bullets Over Broadway plays as the broadest of farces – or rather, it would play as such if there were any humor in Woody Allen’s crass, shrill, deeply unfunny script. The tone Allen seems to be going for is laff-riot slapsticky sitcom – low, crude whacky hijinks that appeal to the basest part of the brain and the lowest common denominator. You know what doesn’t work so great with whacky hijinks? People getting gunned down in cold blood. To get an idea of the problem, imagine oh, Crazy for You, only the leads carry semi-automatics and keep massacring their co-stars. It just doesn’t work.

In one of Bullets Over Broadway’s worst scenes, a young woman splashes into a canal (offstage) after getting repeatedly shot at point blank range. She manages to crawl back out, only to get shot in the face as she’s screaming and trying to drag herself to safety. The whole scene is played for laughs. It’s not funny.

Jeff Brooks and cast in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway ChicagoThe Red Caps in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway Chicago

There are a few scenes that do work thanks to Stroman’s dazzling choreography. The all-male tap extravaganzas “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” and “Tain’t Nobody Business If I Do” are impressive showcases for the dancers. Ditto the opening “Tiger Rag,” which features Olive and the Atta Girls dressed up like leggy tigers. Numbers such as “Up a Lazy River,” “Let’s Misbehave,” and “I’m Sittin’ on Top of the World” would be charming were they performed in a revue.

In fact, changing the Bullets Over Broadway into a revue would be the best thing that could happen to the show. The story and the characters are beyond repair. The fluctuating tone – Tin Pan Alley grins and giggles one minute, mass murder the next – is a disaster. But set the choreography and the music free, and you just might have something endurable.

Rating: ★½

Bullets Over Broadway continues through May 1st at PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map). Tickets are $19-$85, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online at (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Bullets Over Broadway full cast, Broadway in Chicago

Photos by Matthew Murphy 




Jeff Brooks (Cheech), Michael Corvino (Nick Valenti), Emma Stratton (Helen Sinclair), Jemma Jane (Olive), Mary Callahan (Atta Girl), Brian Martin (Aldo), Michael Williams (David), Hannah Rose Deflumeri (Ellen), Conor McGiffin (Flender, gangster), Corinne Munsch (Atta Girl, Bohemian friend), Blaire Baker (Josette, Bohemian friend, Hilda Marx), Rick Grossman (Julian Marx), Carissa Fiorello, Kaylee Olson (Atta Girls, Cotton Club Dancers, flappers), Ian Saunders (Rocco, gangster), Elizabeth Dugas (Atta Girl, flapper, Lorna), Patrick Graver (Bohemian friend, gangster), Joey Ortolani (gangster), Justin Jutras (gangster, victim), Jake Corcoran (gangster, Mitchell Sabine), Bradley Allan Zarr (Warner Purcell, dance captaing), Rachel Bahler (Eden Brent), Brian Martin (gangster), Lexie Plath (Atta Girl), Lainee Hunter (Violet, Atta Girl), Andrew Hendrick (train conductor, gangster), Ryan Kanfer (ensemble, swing), Kelly Peterson (swing, asst. dance captain), Andrew Metzgar (swing)


Robbie Cowan (conductor), Jacob Forbes (drums), Josh Hawkins (guitar), Joshua Wagner (trumpet), Steve Leinheiser (Reed I), Jim Gailloreto (Reed II), Paul McGinley (Reed III), Tim Burke (trumpet/flugelhorn), Michael Joyce (trombone)

behind the scenes

Jeff Whiting (director), Clare Cook (choreographer), Jason Ardizzone-West (set design), William Ivey Long (costume design), Jimm Halladay (costume coordinator), Carolyn Wong (lighting design), Donald Holder (original lighting design), Shannon Slaton (sound design), Susan Stroman (original director, choreographer), Bernie Ardia (wig and hair design), Glen Kelly (music adaptation, additional lyrics), Andy Einhorn (vocal arranger), Doug Besterman (orchestrations), John Mezzio (music coordinator), Michael Lamasa (asst. director), Robbie Cowan (music director), Andrew T. Scheer (production stage manager), Katie Cortez (company manager), Seth Wenig (executive producer), NETWorks Presentations (producer), Matthew Murphy (photos).

Bullets Over Broadway at Broadway in Chicago, PrivateTrust Bank TheatreBradley Allan Zarr and Jemma Jane in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway in Chicago Michael Corvino, Jemma Jane and Michael Williams in Bullets Over BroadwayGangsters from Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway in ChicagoMichael Williams and Emma Stratton in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway Chicago Michael Williams and Hannah Rose DeFlumeri in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway ChicagoJemma Jane and girls in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway in ChicagoKaylee Olson, Carissa Fiorillo and Elizabeth Dugas in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway Chicago Jemma Jane and cast in Bulllets Over Broadway, Broadway ChicagoJeff Brooks and Michael Williams with gangsters in Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway Chicago


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Catey Sullivan, Musical, National Tours, PrivateBank Theatre, Video, YouTube

Comments (2)

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  1. Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson says:

    Thank you for clearly pointing out that this production, despite the ticket prices and use of Stroman’s name, is NOT Equity.

    (And that even the Broadway production had little to do with the movie [which had at least some value].)

  2. Norma says:

    You should have written “in regard”.