Arts & Leisure

Number 1 with a “Bullets” at the Gem

“BULLETS OVER BROADWAY” is a four-star hit at the Gem Theater on Main Street in Garden Grove (OMP Photos).

By Thom deMartino

They say say breaking into show business can be murder — but with the right connections and a little moxie, it could make you a killing…

“Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical”, directed by Damien Lorton, just made its Southern California premiere at the award-winning Gem Theater in Garden Grove, with the audience privy to New York’s seedy, steamy underbelly, at the cusp of the 1930’s: at the crossroads between the gangster underworld and showbiz — and the question of which is really the dirtier enterprise.

Talented but neurotic playwright David Shayne (Alex Bodrero) is certain his newest highbrow thriller could be a hit, but only with the right lead actors… and only if he can direct it himself. In a perfect world, he’d court renowned stage actress Helen Sinclair (Beth Hansen) to star as the lead: but the financial backer of the production, mobster Nick Valenti (Glenn Koppel) has other plans.

Nick is a passionate, hot-blooded man — particularly when it comes to his beautiful, ditzy chorus-girl paramour Olive (Nicole Cassesso) and her demands for him to hoist her up the ladder to stardom… at any price. The gangster has agreed with the writer’s friend and producer Julian Marx (Jon Michell) to fund the production, but — surprise — only if his girlfriend can star. While David is hesitant to compromise, he knows this script could really be the one, if only he makes a few tiny concessions: including a smaller, but pivotal role for Olive… perhaps a few rewrites, here and there…

And so begins a long, slapstick, downward spiral into the loss of artistic integrity.

Further complicating the show is his cast: the talented but haughty Helen has a taste for drink, and a fondness for artists that borders on nymphomania — and is beginning to turn a lustful eye towards the handsome director; and the charming (and increasingly rotund) lead actor Warner Purcell (Peter Crisafulli) can’t keep his hands off the donuts (as well as other things, wink wink, nudge nudge.) Actress Eden Brent (a radiant Brianna Garmon) insists on bringing her temperamental pooch Mr. Woofles along (played by the adorable Roxy Lorton)… and Olive? Well, the frustratingly dense chorus-girl can’t act her way out of a paper bag — mangling the dialogue of her psychiatrist character, much to David’s horror.

YOU’LL LAUGH, and cry over “Bullets on Broadway” at the Gem in Garden Grove.

Even the hulking, menacing — but strangely erudite — thug Cheech (Robert Edward), while tasked by his boss to keep a watchful eye cast upon his starlet moll, can recognize two things about the show: David has no idea how to write the real, gritty voice of the man on the street; and Olive has no talent. The leg-breaker is tiring of the stale dialogue of the show, and has some creative suggestions for the playwright — including some final cuts of his own…

After a stellar 2017 season, One More Productions and the Gem Theater have come roaring into 2018 with an instant musical/comedy smash-hit. The live 15-piece orchestra performing directly behind the players creates an authentic atmosphere, setting the mood with classic and timely songs from that period, such as “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You” (crooned by Koppel’s dapper Nick to the always entrancing Cassesso’s pouty Olive), and “Let’s Misbehave” (belted out with gusto by a serenading Crisafulli as Purcell.) Hansen as Helen Sinclair has the frustrating arrogance of a veteran star who knows her trade too well, but with the vulnerability of a troubled woman fearing her time in the spotlight may be slipping away from her — or might it all be part of Helen’s superior acting? (The remarkable singing is all Hansen, of course.)

The always engaging Bodrero’s hapless David is a artistically-tormented everyman, vocalizing the misgivings every creator feels about compromising their vision to bring something close to it into existence (“I’m a whore!” he screams despondently to the heavens); and Kat Gutierrez charms as David’s perky, but long-suffering girlfriend Ellen — who may not be for much longer.

The numerous minor supporting characters — such as Kaden Narey as David’s friend, Chris Harper as Rocco and Brian Bolanos as Mitch, and Holly Griffin, Megan Walker, Sara Bozin, Annie Sherman and Maneesa Batarse as dancers/characters Mary, Annie, Jeannie, Rose and Betty, respectively — help flesh out and give substance to the dark comedic and lively crime-and-showbiz world of Woody Allen’s original work. And Cassesso – recently awarded the Los Angeles Times 2017 Woman of the Year award — is a hysterical anomaly, with the multifaceted actress playing an absolutely and abysmally talentless one.

Without a doubt, though: Robert Edward as Cheech is the breakout star of the show.

The looming presence of the statuesque actor towers over the other characters: the script is flipped, with the stereotype of the lowbrow underworld thug turned on its head, replaced with one who is observant, insightful, with depth and soul; yet still cold, calculating, and intimidating — and Edward plays it to the hilt. From his masterful comic timing and deadpan delivery, to the threatening subtlety of a single, cocked eyebrow, he utterly possesses the role of Cheech — and it is a wonder to behold.

While certainly not for children, adult audiences will thrill at this nostalgic throwback to yesteryear, and the showbiz shenanigans surrounding a writer who just wants to be true to his art, as well as the chorus-girl who will help turn his dream into a perfectly beautiful and  comedic nightmare.

“Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical,” Nicole Cassesso, Alex Bodrero and Robert Edward star in this slapstick tale of the price of fame, and the art of losing your creative integrity — one splintered piece of your soul at a time. Now playing through March 18 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call (714) 741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information. Some explicit language and suggestive situations.

ROBERT EDWARD as “Cheech” in “Bullets Over Broadway.”


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