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Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)

Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)

Review by Catey Sullivan

The mostly young cast of NightBlue Theater's Bullets Over Broadway is nothing if not earnest. In telling the story of an insufferable playwright whose big Broadway break is overtaken by organized crime, the ensemble clearly is pouring everything they've got into the show. But earnestness and effort alone can't carry a production. And when those things are accompanied by relentlessly consistent over-the-top mugging, it's clear before intermission that more is not always better.

Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)
Under Kevin Bellie's direction, Bullets Over Broadway does have moments of charm. But between these bright spots, the acting aesthetic is cartoons on hyperdrive - loud and garish enough to overpower anything akin to honest emotion. In short, more ham than humanity.

There's no question Woody Allen's 1929-set script defined by outsized, melodramatic shenanigans and (way) larger-than-life characters. Nobody will ever mistake Bullets Over Broadway for, say, . Subtle this show is not. But the amped up melodrama that defines the characters makes finding the show's emotional core all the more essential. Bellie has the cast going in the opposite direction - where things should be reined in, they're exaggerated. As a result, a script that's already over the top goes screaming into the stratosphere, leaving anything resembling a human heart far behind. "Bullets" is sparkly, garish and as fizzily chaotic as a can of Coke that's been dropped from a great height - which would be fine if the show was pure spectacle and no story. But that's not the case.

The plot centers on aspiring playwright David Shayne ( Cody Ellsworth), a pretentious young bohemian who views his words as sacrosanct and heartily condemns anything that smacks of commercialism. Nonetheless, he's determined to make it on Broadway. He gets his chance thanks to gangster Nick Valenti ( Tim Green), who agrees to back David's show provided his girlfriend Olive ( Rachel Juncker) gets a part. Olive has all the stage talent of her namesake garnish, and is dumb as a stump too boot.

Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)
Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)
Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)

As the cast of Shayne's play gets to work, Nick's henchman Cheech (Jonathan Rivera) begins helping out with rewrites, eventually becoming the sole author of the drama. Showbiz and shotguns collide as the show-within-the-show careens toward the big premiere. The characters also include Helen Sinclair, a Broadway star and self-described dipso-, klepto-, nympho-maniac (Monica Szaflik) and David's boho girlfriend Ellen (Maddy Kelly).

The score is a pastiche of 1920s standards, including pieces by Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter. Bellie's choreography tends toward stripped down versions of classic, big Broadway production numbers. The moves are fine, but they also tend to look a little thin simply because he doesn't have an ensemble large enough to really pull off full-bore Broadway-style dazzle.

Bellie opens cute, with Olive and the Atta Girls performing "The Tiger Rag" at a nightclub favored by gangsters. Their act is kitschy and sassy and full of kittenish gestures. Juncker is an engaging singer/dancer; and she gives Olive a screechy cluelessness reminiscent of "Singin' in the Rain's" Lina Lamont. She also anchors the show as the one character who seems real enough to root for. When the humor shines through, it's almost always because Olive has said something gloriously inane. Her delivery of the double-entendre stuffed "Hot Dog Song" is a lowbrow highlight.

Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)
Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)

But this isn't Olive's show alone. And the chronic mugging of the rest of the ensemble ensures that the emotional stakes here are all but nonexistent. The overacting give the plot the feel of a Roadrunner episode - colorful, flat and lacking in substance. The problem is personified in what should be a relatively minor stage manager character, whose grossly exaggerated stereotypically fey affectations become so broad and focus-pulling that they render everybody else in the scene an afterthought - not a good thing given the background nature of the SM role.

Music director Carolyn Brady Rileygets pleasing vocals from several performers, notably Kelly, who soars on "I've Found a New Baby" and Rivera who gives "Up a Lazy River" a nicely nonchalant tinge of menace. Bob Knuth's sleek set design references the Art Deco architecture of the era. Costume designer David Walters delivers period costumes on a budget, although the fit on some of them - most notably a silver evening gown that looked to be scrunched together in the back with safety pins - is less than ideal.

You can't fault the score in Bullets Over Broadway . Numbers including "Let's Misbehave," "Up a Lazy River" and "The Tiger Rag" are classics for a reason. But there are characters and a plot surrounding the musical numbers here. And there, Bullets Over Broadway falls short.

Bullets Over Broadway continues through October 8th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm (Sunday, Oct. 8th at 1pm). Tickets are $35 (seniors: $30, students: $27), and are available by phone (773-327-5252) or online through Stage773.com (check for availability of ). More at NightBlueTheater.com. (Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, includes an intermission)

Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)

Photos by Drew Peterson

Cody Ellsworth (David Shayne), Monica Szaflik (Helen Sinclair), Tim Green (Nick Valenti), Jonathan Rivera (Cheech), Rachel Juncker (Olive Neal), Nick Cuellar (Julian Marx), Jack Wright (Warner Purcell, ensemble), Maddy Brunner (Kay, ensemble), Maddy Kelly (Ellen), Marcus Boni (Aldo, ensemble), Amanda Farmer (Eden Brent), Joseph Kuchey (hot dog man, dance captain, ensemble), Molly LeCaptain (understudy Olive, ensemble, swing), Shawn Quinlan (Rocco, ensemble), Sophia Vitello (Violet, ensemble), Jack Wright (Warner Purcell, ensemble), Anna Backer (ensemble), David Gallo (ensemble, swing)

Carolyn Brady Riley (conductor, keyboard), Anthony Scandora (percussion), Ryan Hobbs (trumpet), Ashley Fitzwater (violin), Anthony Rodriguez (reed).

behind the scenes

Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)
Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)
Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)
Rev‪iew: Bullets Over Broadway (NightBlue Performing Arts)

Kevin Bellie (director, choreographer), Carolyn Brady Riley (music director), (set design), Dustin L. Derry (lighting design), David Walters (costume design), Paul Packer (props design), Kara Schoenhofer (co-choreographer), Ken Schumacher (technical director), Drew Peterson (photos), Erik Scanlon (videography).

Tags: 17-0922, Amanda Farmer, Anna Backer, Anthony Rodriguez, Anthony Scandora, Ashley Fitzwater, Bob Knuth, Carolyn Brady Riley, Catey Sullivan, Chicago musical theater, Chicago Theater, Cody Ellsworth, David Gallo, David Walters, Douglas McGrath, Drew Peterson, Dustin L. Derry, Erik Scanlon, Jack Wright, Jonathan Rivera, Joseph Kuchey, Kara Schoenhofer, Ken Schumacher, Kevin Bellie, Maddy Brunner, Maddy Kelly, Marcus Boni, Molly LeCaptain, Monica Szaflik, Nick Cuellar, Paul Packer, post, Rachel Juncker, Ryan Hobbs, Shawn Quinlan, Sophia Vitello, Stage 773, Tim Green, Woody Allen

Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Musical, NightBlue Performing Arts, Stage 773, Video, YouTube


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