With all the controversy swirling around Woody Allen and allegations of child abuse, it may not be the best time to trumpet his accomplishments. But Allen enters a new stage of his career this season, with a new Broadway musical version of his 1994 film, “Bullets Over Broadway,” his valentine to the theater. Directed by Susan Stroman, the production, which opens on April 10, uses songs from the period rather than an original score. It stars Zach Braff (“Scrubs”) as David Shayne, the playwright who makes a deal with the mob in order to produce his play. Marin Mazzie (“Passion”) will play the aging actress who becomes Shayne’s love interest, and Nick Cordero (“Rock of Ages”) plays the gangster, Cheech, who helps him to rewrite the play.
According to a Daily News gossip column last month, representatives of the musical suggested downplaying Allen’s connection to the musical in order to protect ticket sales. But, despite the lurid headlines, Allen’s film career is flourishing with “Midnight in Paris” and “Blue Jasmine” — two of the most financially successful films of his career. Entertainment industry insiders have speculated in the press that audiences “compartmentalize” Allen’s films from his private life — and they point out that none of the charges against him have been proven in court.
“Bullets Over Broadway” is written by Allen and Douglas McGrath (who penned the book for the recently-opened “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”). Its lead producers are Letty Aronson (Allen’s sister) and Julian Schlossberg, who collaborated on two previous stage productions by Allen, one-acts included in “Death Defying Acts” and “Relatively Speaking”—evenings of comic one-act plays by Allen, Ethan Coen, David Mamet and Elaine May.
In a joint interview with Schlossberg and Aronson, Schlossberg called “Bullets Over Broadway” a “great story, with very well-defined the characters.” The biggest problem with almost every musical is the book, he said, and the book of “Bullets” is exceptionally strong, thanks to Allen’s writing. And Aronson emphasized the importance of the music, noting that Allen “doesn’t like the music that is composed for all these new shows.” When she suggested to him that the show simply use period songs, as his films do, he readily acquiesced. Younger audience members who have come to rehearsals, Aronson wryly recalled, “thought that the songs were written for the musical.”
Is the main character in the show a Jew? Aronson is not so sure. “His first name seems Jewish, but his last name does not,” she said. Then again, she noted, “shayn” means “beautiful” in Yiddish.
“I guess that you can view him as a Jewish intellectual,” she said. “And the producer in the story is definitely Jewish, as so many producers were — and, like us, are.”
“Bullets Over Broadway” begins previews on March 11 for an April 10 opening at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St. For tickets, $52-147, call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.