Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Gangsters and their molls mix with Broadway folk and it all might be rollicking madcap mayhem, but I fear Mr. Allen was too close to the project and the book is more than a little self indulgent. I have to believe that original director Susan Stroman provided a top notch production on Broadway in 2014 but audiences rejected it and it folded after 156 performances. Even so, I bet I might have spent an enjoyable two and a half hours with this throwback to musicals of a much earlier time. Heck, I spent an enjoyable time with this Players Centre version, even if everything isn't quite on the level of ready for Broadway.
What this production did remind me of is how deep the talent pool of community theater performers runs. The stars here mostly perform only intermittently, and then usually for this director. All give great pleasure and several left me imagining them in more familiar parts. Mark Athridge as budding playwright David Shayne is a perfect mixture of geeky and handsome leading man. He constantly commands the stage, sings and dances really well, owning "I'm Sitting on Top of the World" in the process. What a shame that he has not trod Players Centre boards since 2016 in Young Frankenstein. Melissa Ingrisano as his love interest Ellen is darling beyond belief. She and Mr. Athridge show great chemistry in "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me," not surprising since they played opposite each other two years ago as well.
I am very happy to see Joseph Giglia as Nick Valenti, a role that gives him opportunities to really show off his talents, which several recent appearances have not. Leading the chorus cuties and as Nick's girl Olive is Amanda Heisey. It's a showy part and Ms. Heisey wastes no time stealing every scene she is in. Chip Fisher as Cheech, assigned to keep Olive out of trouble as she pursues her dreams to be an actress, is a marvelous foil and leads the men's chorus of gangsters in a tap routine. Our leading lady in David's play, former Broadway star down on her luck Helen Sinclair, is played with haughty divadom by Colleen Sudduth-Buchmeier. She was last seen at Players Centre in Victor, Victoria and boy am I sorry I didn't see it. I bet she was fabulous. Her leading man in David's play, Warner Purcell, is played by Tony Boothby, giving a nice dry performance which translates to a fine rendition of "Let's Misbehave" with Olive.
Laura Bissell is terrific as Eden Brent, another actress in David's play, but she doesn't get a first rate vocal opportunity. The ultimate scene stealer turns out to be Sophie Azadian as Mr. Woofles, Helen Sinclair's dog. For much of the show I was believing that a stuffed animal was playing the part, so imagine my surprise when she was put down and trotted herself right off stage left. W.C. Fields had it correct, never work with kids and dogs. Other nice supporting performances include Thomas Roohr as producer Julian Marx, Patrick Tancey as Rocco, Jay Bowman as Mitchell Sabine, and Kelsey Azadian as Lorna.
Jared E. Walker gets the most out of his cast, who provide a reason to see this production even if the actual show is silly but lacking a blazingly great group of songs to carry it past that. Everybody dances reasonably well, some a great deal more than that. The men's ensemble dances better than the women's, but that may be the director's intent, that these nightclub chorines are not overly talented.
Alan J. Corey is the fantastic conductor, leading a band 14 strong, many of them high schoolers. One thing that confused me is that Victor Mongillo is listed under trumpet, but he is also listed as playing at The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Manatee Players, some 15-18 miles away, with overlapping performances. The band offers a "playout" as the audience exits happily. I can't remember the last time I sort of danced out of a theater.
Jeff Weber provides the excellent set designs, Caren Brady the equally fine costumes. The esteemed Ryan Finzelber takes a busman's holiday from Urbanite Theatre and freeFall to bring his lighting magic to Players Centre.
Bullets over Broadway shows off the Players Centre for Performing Arts at very close to its best. Ok, the show itself may be a little silly, but this cast, crew and director give it their absolute all and audiences are entertained.
Bullets over Broadway, through March 11, 2018, at Players Centre for Performing Arts, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. Box Office: 941-365-2494. For more information visit www.theplayers.org.