It is arguable whether Woody Allen added anything to the showbiz spoof with his 1994 black-comedy crime movie, “Bullets Over Broadway.” The movie and the musical both sit in a 1920ish setting with stock characters and predictable plot lines. There’s a leading man with some problem or another, a squeaky chorine-cum-star who doesn’t have the goods, a true leading lady who is thinking of leaving the show, a gangster with a lot of money who must be obeyed and one or two of his henchman who end up in the show proper.
Musical versions of these pageants are endemic, allowing the hopeful chorine to yelp through suggestive dance numbers, the leading man to warble production-tenor tunes and the leading lady to connive and finally weep at her dressing table. The two gangsters are at their best when they inadvertently end up on the show’s boards, tap dancing and being otherwise delightfully droll.
Cole Porter gave this recipe heart with his 1948 “Kiss Me, Kate,” a ruler by which all other outings of this sort will continue to be measured, although the much more recent “Drowsy Chaperone” proves the falsehood that these cockeyed characters with their outrageous stories need to exit, stage left. Allen, at first shy to share his movie plot and panicky sensibilities with The Great White Way, eventually relented, and what was a movie that some loved and some hated (shades of the man’s entire career) squatted on Broadway for a hundred or so performances and has now become a beloved staple of community and semi-professional theater.
Director-choreographer Kevin Bellie, usually a production’s key to a Jeff Award-headed hit, falters here: This show is beleaguered by stylistically inappropriate pacing, cumbersome casting and athletic dancing that asks too much of the talent on hand, particularly when dancing in unison. Nothing is so obvious as hoofers who can’t match each other while doing the same step.
The youthful talent throw themselves at this with all their spunk and passion. I can’t wait to see and hear them in different roles, coached to hit the punchline. (Aaron Hunt)
NightBlue Performing Arts at Stage 773, 1225 West Belmont, (773)327-5252, stage773.com, $35. Through October 8.