Review: ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

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Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of Bullets Over Broadway is a funny romp of a musical. Written by Woody Allen, and based on his 1994 movie co-written by Douglas McGrath, it features excellent music and singing of jazz-age tunes from masters like Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael. Directed at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre by Clare Shaffer, it is a wonderful way to open their new season.

Bullets over Broadway plays through June 16 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.
Bullets over Broadway plays through June 16 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Trevor Greenfield plays playwright David Shayne with the right amount of neuroticism for the Woody Allen stand-in. Idealistic and highly intellectual, he looks on in shock as Olive (Caitlyn Ruth McClellan) sings a song from her early performing days. He quickly excuses himself. He begins “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” full of joy and hope, then gives the same lines a bitter tone as he learns the realities of the rehearsal process. He sings manically in “The Panic Is On,” giving it a frantic quality as he rushes around the stage in a panic.

Emma Godfrey gives David’s girlfriend Ellen a quietly passionate appeal. In “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” she sings wonderfully of wanting to get married and have a conventional life, hitting up against David’s bohemian desires to be an uncompromising, hard-hitting artist. She absolutely shines in “I’ve Found a New Baby,” her joy at discovering love ripping through the stage as she paces towards David. While she eventually goes back to him, her last line is a hilarious burn at his expense. Even so, “She’s Funny That Way,” her final duet with David, is a lovely, romantic number, sung as they first dance with each other, then play the ukulele and guitar.

Caitlyn Ruth McClellan is a real hoot as Olive, a chorus girl given a large role in David’s play by her gangster boyfriend Nick (Jerry Vess). She gives a roughness and aggressiveness to the role, determined to be a Broadway star despite her lack of talent. She plays the double entendres with great suggestiveness in “I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll,” ably assisted by Andrew Gordon as the Hot Dog Man. Listening to her overemphasis in a line reading is comically painful. She oozes sexuality in “Let’s Misbehave,” nearly tugging her fellow actor Warner (John Purnell) offstage to her trailer.

Traci Denhardt plays aging actress Helen Sinclair with passion and comic timing. Her self-belief shines in “They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me,” as she claims her popularity. She dominates David, using him to chase her dreams for renewed stardom as she sings “There’s a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway” while covering his mouth and telling him “don’t speak.” She takes center stage in “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle,” boldly demanding David choose between her and Ellen.

Jerry Vess plays gangster Nick, consumed with the demands of his job and girlfriend. He gives “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?” a surprising tenderness. He plays the last song, “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” for all its silliness.

Jeffrey Hawkins gives the right amount of menace to Cheech, Olive’s reluctant bodyguard and David’s secret rewriter. He softly sings “Up a Lazy River” on two “jobs,” singing the ending with joy after finishing the second one, dancing offstage. He threatens Warner in “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” grabbing him by his shirt, and leaving Warner on his knees agreeing to Cheech’s demands. He angrily defends his violence in “’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do,” roughly shoving David at one point.

Bullets over Broadway plays through June 16 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.
Bullets over Broadway plays through June 16 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Dan Snyder as Set Designer has created a fun two-story set, with two staircases on either side. On the ground floor are five little cubbyholes, with streamers in front of all of them. The band is in several of them, while the cast uses the center one to perform the “play within a play,” their backs to the audience. A small nightclub table is on the far left, with a white tablecloth and chair. On either side of the center is a row of light bulbs, which Lighting Designer Ian Claar has light up at various times throughout the performance. During the “play within a play,” colored lights shine in the center hole, making the scene seem even more bizarre.

Megan Scott as Costume Designer has constructed colorful Jazz Age costumes. Except for David and Cheech, every character has several outfits. David wears a yellow sweater and khaki pants, while Ellen begins with a black skirt and a blue top, later changing into a blue dress. Olive starts with a short fur coat, and later a green dress. Marx at first wears a black skirt and long scarf, before changing into a purple dress and jacket. Cheech looks imposing all in black, from his jacket and pants to his fedora. In the first number, “Tiger Rag,” the female dancers have short black dresses and fur “tails” wrapped around their waists. During “Runnin’ Wild” and “Good Old New York,” they wear red caps and carry black umbrellas.

Rachel Sandler has done a wonderful job as Music Director, getting a beautiful, rich sound from all the performers, while Conductor Ken Kimble leads the band perfectly, the music balancing the vocals without being overwhelming. The songs, sung by the performers, are great fun, bringing back the classic toe-tapping tunes of the Jazz Age that has the audience swinging in their seats.

Director Clare Shaffer and Choreographer Pauline Lamb have both done excellent jobs. The actors easily navigate the stage, using every inch of it. Their dance numbers are beautiful to watch, from jitterbugs and Charlestons to tap dancing, lifts, and twirls. They hit the jokes with great comic timing. Everything comes together for a fun evening of music, singing, and laughs. Go out and see it!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.

Bullets over Broadway plays through June 16, 2018, at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre – 143 Compromise Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-268-9212 or purchase them online.

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