Between so many jukebox revues, classic revivals and “new” shows based on familiar movies, wholly original stage musicals have become a rarity these days.
“Bullets Over Broadway” is no exception to that trend. The script for the 2014 musical has been adapted by Woody Allen from his popular 1994 non-musical film, and it spotlights a score consisting entirely of standard Jazz Age hits from the Roaring ’20s (the story’s setting): “Tiger Rag,” “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” “Let’s Misbehave” and “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” among several others.
Everything old doesn’t always feel new again. To his immense credit, though, Georgia Ensemble Theatre associate artistic director James Donadio—soundly rebounding from his meandering rendition of the company’s recent comedy “Moonlight and Magnolias”—dispatches his staging of “Bullets” with a lively flair.
That exuberance clearly translates in the vigorous choreography of Lauren Brooke Tatum (and as executed by an athletic chorus of a dozen dancers); in the snazzy period costumes of designer Emmie Tuttle; and in the rousing music direction of S. Renee Clark (leading a talented six-member band on keyboards, and otherwise delivered by a bright cast of singers).
Delightful performances abound among the principal actors, too—some more surprising than others. It’s no big shock that musical-theater stalwart Chase Peacock (Serenbe’s “Miss Saigon,” Atlanta Lyric’s “Catch Me If You Can”) nails his scenes and songs so charismatically, even if the handsome star never really looks much like an allegedly nerdy Allen surrogate, an angst-filled playwright. Nor that the equally proven Rachel Sorsa (late of the Ensemble’s Rosemary Clooney revue “Tenderly”) is so unabashedly terrific as a temperamental, often tipsy Broadway diva.
But who knew, for instance, that Maggie Birgel (whom I’ve only seen before in straight plays like Synchronicity’s “Strait of Gibraltar” or Stage Door’s “Last Night of Ballyhoo”) might be so well-versed at comedy—let alone singing and dancing, to boot—as the dumb-blonde moll of a gangster who finances the show-within this show, on the condition that she gets a plum role?
There are plenty of backstage and behind-the-scenes in-jokes sprinkled throughout “Bullets Over Broadway” about the ups and downs and highs and lows involved in mounting that parallel production of “Gods of Our Fathers.” While Peacock’s protagonist struggles to resist “compromise” in favor of preserving his artistic integrity, he soon realizes that the henchman who’s assigned to keep an eye on the mob boss’ ditzy girlfriend is possibly a better writer.
He’s pleasantly played by Hayden Rowe (breaking out from smaller chorus roles in Atlanta Lyric’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Wedding Singer”). Also of note in other supporting parts: Megan Wheeler sweetly portrays Peacock’s easygoing love interest; newcomer Blake Fountain is funny, albeit too young, as an over-the-hill, down-on-his-luck actor; and, in the rather unimpressive selection of “Yes, We Have No Bananas” as the splashy finale of the show, veteran character actress LaLa Cochran singularly distinguishes it with a memorable pig-Latin refrain.
For all of Allen’s bullet points (so to speak) about “tepid cardboard figures,” or about “not pandering to a commercial Broadway audience,” “Bullets Over Broadway” may have little room to talk (or sing)—but at least Donadio and company give it all they’ve got, with gusto to spare.
“Bullets Over Broadway”
Through April 28. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 4 p.m. Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sunday (April 21); 2:30 p.m. Sunday (April 28). $33-$52. Roswell Cultural Arts Center, 950 Forrest St., Roswell. 770-641-1260. get.org.
Bottom line: Old hat, but exuberantly packaged.
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