‘Bullets Over Broadway’ is mildly entertaining but not a blockbuster

In an ideal universe, the new musical “Bullets Over Broadway,” based on the 1994 Woody Allen film, would shut down for a few months so that a talented songwriter – perhaps David Yazbek (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” or the young team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“A Christmas Story”) – could pen an original score for it.

To its credit, “Bullets Over Broadway” is mildly entertaining. But given that it has been directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (“The Producers”) and has a script by Allen himself, everyone was expecting it to be a knock ‘em dead musical comedy blockbuster.

The film, about how mob boss Nick Valenti agrees to bankroll a play on Broadway so that his dim-witted girlfriend Olive can have a small part, and how aspiring playwright David Shayne receives unexpected help with his script from low-level gangster Cheech, was a perfect candidate for the musical treatment given its larger-than-life personalities and madcap tone.

Although the show contains flashy design elements, amusing one-liners and generally decent performances, the decision to use jazz standards from the 1920s and 1930s instead of an original, well-integrated score proves to be absolutely fatal.

By pigeonholing these familiar tunes into the existing plot, they arrive randomly and have almost nothing to do with the characters or plot. For instance, the novelty song “Yes! We Have No Bananas” serves as the finale for no discernible reason.

Had there been an original score, the diva Helen Sinclair’s signature line “Don’t speak” (carried over from the film) could have been turned into a song. Instead, “Don’t speak” remains just a repeated gag.

It only feels like a coherent, character-motivated musical when Cheech (the fine Nick Cordero) defiantly breaks into the bluesy “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” which then morphs into a song-and-dance ensemble number.

Zach Braff works too hard at portraying the stressed-out playwright. His singing voice is pretty thin as well. On the other hand, Marin Mazzie is ideally cast as the grandly theatrical Sinclair, and Vincent Pastore of “The Sopranos” is effortlessly effective as Valenti.


If you go:

“Bullets Over Broadway” plays an open run at the St. James Theatre. 246 W. 44th St., telecharge.com.