During the opening moments of Bullets Over Broadway, a pinstripe-suited gangster fires a tommy gun into a flat drop curtain and spells out the title in bright lights. From that rat-a-tat start to the utterly bananas finale, director-choreographer Susan Stroman produces one of the sprightliest and most effervescent new musicals in years. There’s a fluidity to the scene changes that is almost cinematic, which is apt since writer Woody Allen hews closely to his 1994 film about a Mob boss (The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore) who finances a Broadway show as a vehicle for his champagne-bubbleheaded club-dancer girlfriend (Heléne Yorke, with a scene-stealing foghorn of a voice).
This is not your usual jukebox musical. The songs, all ’20s-era gems that predate the word jukebox, are cleverly deployed (and lyrically updated by Glen Kelly) to advance the plot: To woo her naive playwright-director (Zach Braff, nicely nebbishy) into beefing up her role, fading diva Helen Sinclair (the sensational Marin Mazzie) croons ”I Ain?t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle.” And mobster and closet play-fixer Cheech (Nick Cordero) sings the praises of the omertá in ”’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do.” The wit extends to Santo Loquasto’s elaborate sets, William Ivey Long’s spot-on costumes, and Stroman’s dance numbers, which toss in everything from tap-dancing gangsters to one starlet’s (real) pooch.
Yes, it’s a tad loopy. But Bullets captures the screwball spirit of the time period while remaining entirely fresh and new. A?