Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bullets Over Broadway


Normy and I have arrived in Toronto where we have settled into a suite at the Super 8. Not as luxurious as I am used to but there was apparently some sort of mix up in reservations with the Ritz. The desk clerk when we arrived there was exceedingly snotty and pretended not to even know who I was. Normy got so excited, he threw a telephone at the gentleman; fortunately, there were no paparazzi around or Normy would have to share the gossip columns with Russell Crowe. We adore Russell as a performer, but he's not really the sort one wants to associate with on a more intimate level.

I had my first meeting with the producers of The Lord of the Rings: The Musical this morning to go over the character of Galadriel. The first thing we need to fix is the amount of stage time for the character. In the script as it stands, Galadriel is little more than a glorified cameo with only one ballad early in the first act. This will never do as I am always guaranteed, by contract, two up tempo numbers, a ballad, a tap number and a dream ballet in any stage musical in which I create a role. I'm thinking that the easiest way to ensure an appropriate dose of my star charisma is to rewrite a bit and make sure that Galadriel become an integral member of the fellowship. I'm thinking we could jettison a couple of the more extraneous hobbits. They'd never be missed. Of course, the big tap number will take place in the Mines of Moria where Galadriel does battle with the Balrog. Tapping back and forth over the bridge of Khazad-Dum while the flames leap higher is going to be such a spectacle.

While relaxing with Normy the other night, I was able to do some channel surfing and ran across Woody Allen's 1994 film, Bullets Over Broadway with Dianne Wiest, John Cusack, Jennifer Tilly and Chazz Palminteri. I had not seen this film since its initial release and remembered enjoying it so I settled in for a few hours of diversion. Normy began to snore after fifteen minutes. Woody Allen really isn't his thing.

Bullets Over Broadway is a postmodern homage to film styles of the thirties, combining elements of the Broadway backstager with the gangster picture and mixing them up in Allen's own intellectually humorous style. John Cusack plays the typical Allen protagonist, hapless, put upon, wise cracking and self analytical - this time a 30s playwright named David Shayne who owes a thing or two to Clifford Odets and the other social realists of the period. Shayne has written a socially relevant play about love, but lacks the financing to get it produced on Broadway. A shady producer (Jack Warden) finds the money from a Caponesque gangster (Joe Viterelli) but it comes with strings attached: the gangster's moll, Olive (Jennifer Tilly) must be cast in the pivotal role of a lady psychiatrist despite no discernible talent. With the financing in place, stage legend Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest) takes the lead and is joined by supporting players Tracey Ullman and Jim Broadbent. A mob war is going on so to protect Olive during rehearsals, a bodyguard, Cheech, is dispatched (Chazz Palmintieri). The play is not working, Shayne sees his career going down the toilet until rewrites start arriving from a most unlikely source.

The film is one of Allen's more accessible with its easily understood farcical situations and its use of thirties film cliché styles. The writing is tight, riffs facilely with the dialog of the era and, unlike some of his other films, rarely descends into existential angst. Perhaps these are the contributions of co-author Douglas McGrath. It's given a proper Hollywoodized New York sheen by production designer Santo Loquasto who has been associated with most Allen projects since the mid-1980s.

The movie really clicks along on the strength of its performances. Dianne Wiest won her second supporting actress Oscar for her basso-profundo leading lady who owes a wink and a nod to such fictional Broadway divas as Margo Channing and to such real ones as Tallulah Bankhead. Her delivery of the film's most famous line 'Don't speak' in a variety of forms is an absolute highlight. She is closely rivaled in talent by the squeaky voiced Tilly whose ditzy Olive not only incorporates every Jean Harlow mannerism off-stage, but also credibly creates a vulnerable and real bad actress in the show within a show. It takes an extremely good actress to accurately portray a bad one and Tilly has brilliant comic timing. She was also honored with an Oscar nomination. Chazz Palminteri, has the hoodlum with an unexpected talent took home the third Oscar nomination from the cast. He's good, but it's too close to the goombah roles he's played in other films. The weak link in the leads is Cusack. It's not that he's bad, he just has to play straight man to this cast of crazies and he hasn't been given as much to work with as the others.

The supporting cast is top notch, as is usual for a Woody Allen film. Future Sopranos regulars such as Tony Sirico, Edie Falco and John Ventigmilia can be spotted in bit parts in the gangster parts of the story. Tracey Ullman and Jim Broadbent, although they have lesser roles, also do excellent work, especially opposite Ms. Wiest.

This is a film that's worth another look if you haven't seen it in a decade or stopping on when flipping through channels or purchasing from the sale bin at the local Best Buy.

Sarcastic Louise Beavers type maid. Street assassinations. Belasco theater rehearsals. Gratuitous Mary Louise Parker. Gratuitous Harvey Fierstein. Out of town tryout. Pool hall rewrites. Hot water with lemon. Chicken in pocket. Understudy triumphant.

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