The minute you walk into The Barn Theatre — actually, make that the minute you sit down — you know you are in for a really fun evening.
Sitting down allows you the opportunity to fully take in the marvelously kitschy set, designed by Samantha Snow, which forms the backdrop(s) for the show that opened Tuesday evening — “Bullets Over Broadway” (the musical) — under the direction of Hans Friedrichs.
Obviously to be confused with the 1994 movie of the same name (and basically same plot) by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath. In 2014, Allen and director/choreographer Susan Stroman, brought it to Broadway, adding music from the 1920s-‘30s as the fast-paced score (with additional lyrics by Glen Kelly) to fit the fast-paced action.
And, as everyone knows, everything goes better with music!
The basic plot — aspiring playwright cannot find a producer until one comes along with underworld connections and a less-than-talented girlfriend who long to be on Broadway — is easily followed and the only “surprises” are how very many laughs spring up along the way to the big finale.
Set in the memorably Roaring ‘20s, the score features many songs still familiar today (we found ourselves humming along!).
The cast, featuring some of the very best of The Barn ’18, just keeps on tickin’ as the bodies begin to fall around them.
It all begins when chorus girl Olive Neal (Melissa Cotton Hunter) demands that her boyfriend, underworld boss Nick Valenti (a super-slick Charlie King), take her out of the line and put her in a legitimate show.
Her request is a blessing and a curse for playwright David Shane (Miguel Ragel Wilson) who instantly spots her no-talent level. Prodded by his manager Julian Marx (John Jay Espino) and his girlfriend Ellen (Rachel Zack), he accepts the deal.
A major plus, however, is the agreement by his long-time idol Helen Sinclair (Penelope Alex at her diva best) to play the lead. As the cast assembles, especially leading man Warner Purcell (Patrick Hunter), who can’t stay away from the craft (food) table; featured player Eden Brent (Gabi Shook), who is never without her adorable dog Mr. Woofles (Mr. Woobles); and Cheech (Jonnie Carpathios), actually not a cast member but assigned by Nick to “stay close” to Olive, the plot begins to thicken and one of its major turns you will never see coming!
A major asset in this production is the sextet of sexy chorus girls who, it seems, never run out of steam! From the opening (which vaguely resembles that of “Guys and Dolls”) to the wild and wooly finale, they dance/change costumes/dance/change costumes/dance/…..well, you get it, playing everything from chorus cuties to flappers to hotel red caps without missing a beat. One of them, Kassady Kwiatkowska, also is choreographer. They are joined frequently by James Grisham, especially funny as the Hot Dog Man, accompanied by a group of motley male wieners!
The principals all are well cast!
Lean-and-lanky Wilson is a mix of Ray Bolger and Jeff Goldblum, with a bit of aw shucks Jimmy Stewart thrown in and an excellent baritone voice. His increasing anxiety as opening night nears and things get really out of hand is perfectly timed.
Alex, a Barn favorite, shifts characters from show to show with each one an individual and completely believable. Her aging diva in search of a way to renew her career is right on without ever veering into caricature.
Cotton Hunter has just what it takes to create a ditzy blonde with attributes in all the right places and her eye on the theatrical prize. Her “audition,” aptly titled “I Want A Hot Dog For My Roll,” leaves no chance of misinterpretation! It is an hilariously solid characterization.
Ditto the theatrical ham created by Patrick Hunter which strikes a chord with everyone unable to pass up a table of free food. The duo’s connection, “Let’s Misbehave,” is a highlight.
As Cheech, Carpathios is quickly an audience favorite, not only for the path his character chooses to follow but for his talented tapping. He leads fellow gangsters in the Act One showstopper “T’aint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do.”
As David’s neglected fiancé, Zack has several solo opportunities and she makes the most of them. Espino chalks up another stressed-out persona and, as always, delivers the best.
The tuxedo-clad orchestra, under the direction of keyboardist Brent J. Decker, sits this one in — on stage — and hits the right notes musically and as an important scenic asset.
If there is one blank in this bullseye production, it is the lighting. Way too often solos are sung partly is not totally in shadow and the overall perception is playing in half-light.
Everything, however, is up full for the out-of-nowhere finale! If you don’t look at the program, you will never see it coming!
“BULLETS OVER BROADWAY” plays through Aug. 28 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or goen line at www.barntheatreschool.org