Bullets Over Broadway at the Orpheum 

If you've seen the film, you know the classic screwball setup: Unlucky playwright lands gangster producer; gangster producer casts untalented girlfriend; things get dangerous; hilarity ensues. The only real mystery here is why it took so long for Woody Allen's film Bullets Over Broadway to be reimagined as a blockbuster musical. Well, maybe there's one other mystery, for the critics, at least: Why did Allen's creative team repurpose songs from the 1920s instead of creating an original soundtrack?

According to associate director Jeff Whiting, the show needed a sense of authenticity. "It's set in 1929 just before the big stock market crash, so really the height of the roaring '20s, and it was important that the music, and everything about the show, was really authentic. We weren't trying to do a parody of gangsters and the mafia," Whiting adds. "We wanted to do it in a realistic way."

click to enlarge Aggressively tap-dancing gangsters - MATTHEW MURPHY
  • Matthew Murphy
  • Aggressively tap-dancing gangsters

When Broadway director Susan Stroman asked Whiting to join the creative team, it took him about half a second to say yes. He'd been a huge fan of the 1994 film starring John Cusack and Dianne Wiest. "It's just a fun idea," he says, recounting brainstorming sessions where Allen, a jazz player and aficionado, would suggest old chestnuts and obscure songs known only to collectors of brittle old 78-r.p.m. records.

Swing dancing, Charlestons, and foxtrots are all represented in a score that informs Bullets' athletic choreography. "Near the end of act one, all the gangsters in the town do a tap number," Whiting says, explaining how the dance numbers help to define even the show's most roughneck characters. "At first, the concept seemed kind of odd. But over time the sound and rhythm of the feet became quite aggressive. And it really did match the heartbeat of the show."

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