Shameless and Uncharismatic, Bullets Over Broadway Loses The Sophistication of Its Source Material


Bullets Over Broadway is an old-fashioned musical, if for you the term “old-fashioned” connotes a version of 1920s New York in which Italian-American stereotypes are the only ethnic other, most women know their place, and artists are all hacks.

Adapted by Woody Allen from his passable 1994 film, the story follows the career of playwright David Shayne (the charisma-deficient Zach Braff), whose agent finances his play with mob money. Shayne gets Helen Sinclair (Marin Mazzie, doing Carol Burnett to avoid aping Dianne Wiest), the leading lady he wants in more ways than one, but he also has to cast a mafia don’s untalented girlfriend, Olive (a shrill Heléne Yorke), as one of the leads. Adding to that humiliation, Olive’s bodyguard, Cheech (Nick Cordero, who stole any charisma Braff had left), displays so much talent at revising Shayne’s play that he ghostwrites a new version everyone adores. To protect his vision, Cheech bumps Olive off.

With the addition of many familiar songs of the era relentlessly woven in and director-choreographer Susan Stroman’s shameless, pandering glitz, any sophistication left from the film version also gets rubbed out. Some of the source’s dark jokes still land, but the question it raises, of whether a great artist may commit unconscionable acts — a timely one in terms of the controversy that has lately surrounded Allen — becomes moot with greatness so distant, the art barely separable from the unconscionable act.