Review: 'Bullets Over Broadway'

Foothill Music Theatre stages faithful, fun adaptation of mobster musical
Jocelyn Pickett, center, plays Olive Neal in 'Bullets Over Broadway,' now showing at the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College. Photo by David Allen

Based on the 1994 black-comedy film by Woody Allen, Bullets Over Broadway follows a naive playwright who gets in over his head with the mafia in an attempt to get his musical financed. The musical version, now showing at Lohman Theatre on the Foothill College campus, is a swinging romp through organized crime.

Foothill Music Theatre's latest production opens on a bare stage set with the austere trappings of a nightclub—a lit bar, chairs, tables and showgirls. The dancers commence the show, cavorting around the stage in a loose, chaotic but polished routine that sets the tone for the rest of the musical.

Enter David Shayne, a young, idealistic playwright new to the big city. Desperate to make his musical and a name for himself, Shayne casts Olive Neal, a mafioso's girlfriend with dramatic aspirations, in exchange for funding. As with all Faustian bargains, Shayne is soon in over his head, as madness and escalating criminality ensue.

It turns out that Cheech, muscle for the gangster bankrolling the show, is a musical virtuoso with a knack for showtunes. By the time the curtain goes up on opening night, he's practically rewritten the entire show. David, meanwhile, has picked up a second girlfriend—leading lady Helen Sinclair—while Olive is engaged in her own affair with the production's leading man.

With Bullets Over Broadway, Foothill Music Theatre shows its ability to do a lot with a little. From the stripped-down set to the six-piece orchestra, the company uses artifice to its advantage—leaning into the meta, musical-within-a-musical plot points in order to sharpen the focus on the engrossing characters.

As a whole, the cast shines. From ensemble songs to solo struts, everyone is on their game—but loosely. That's the key to Bullets Over Broadway's success. The actors bring a boozy confidence to their respective roles, playing up their parts without becoming cartoonish. The score, which melds saloon swagger with synth textures, helps propel the production forward.

There is some excess, sure—interactions are melodramatic, the accents are ridiculous—but it's all part of the fun. As David, Adam Cotugno is hopeful and cherubic, serving as a straight man foil to the rest of the miscreant cast. Nick Mandracchia as Cheech is shrewd but comical, pouncing on David's innocence in a believable but entertaining duel of wits. Carla Befera as Helen Sinclair is perfectly boozy and fierce. However, the standout role is Olive, played by Jocelyn Pickett. She upstages almost everyone else by default. Through song and monologue, she is bombastic without being overbearing, raucous without being lewd, coalescing in a hilarious performance that carries the show in loud, parade-like package.

Most of the show's drawbacks are a product of Allen's original story. So many jokes are crammed into the plot that at moments, it seems like every other punchline falls flat, each collapsing under the weight of its own corniness. Moreover, Allen's signature Jewish neuroticism feels somewhat out of character—especially when delivered by an Italian-American mobster.

The romance also feels forced. In moments of sexual tension, the cast exchanges their lackadaisical charm for something stiffer. And at times, the sound and look as if they are merely pulling faces and mimicking the New York accents they are meant to inhabit. Still, the production maintains an organic levity that is subversively smart and, more importantly, fun to watch.

Bullets Over Broadway
Thru Mar 17, $15+
Lohman Theatre, Foothill College

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