The musical “Bullets Over Broadway,” coming to Starlight Theatre on Tuesday, owes its plot, characters and much of its dialogue to the 1994 Woody Allen movie of the same name. But, aside from the song and dance, there are some subtle differences.
“During production, Woody would rewrite the jokes to make them very different from the movie,” said Susan Stroman, director and choreographer of the Broadway production. “He would hand the actors pieces of paper with new jokes on it during practice, and they loved it. It was like a Christmas present.”
For years Allen was not interested in turning his Oscar-nominated movie into a musical, but he changed his mind when he realized the music could be classic songs from the 1920s. He contacted Stroman to help transform “Bullets Over Broadway” from the big screen to Broadway.
Stroman, after all, has won five Tony Awards, including two for directing and choreographing another film-turned-musical about the inside workings of Broadway: “The Producers,” which holds the record for 12 Tony Awards. (This year, the musical “Hamilton” fell one award short of tying it.)
But Stroman said “Bullets Over Broadway” is edgier than “The Producers.” She said Allen’s vision helped her create the musical from the movie.
“I wanted to make something new, but I kept concentrating on the story,” Stroman said in a telephone interview last week from New York. “I kept thinking about how far would you go for your art? Would you kill for it? And I loved that Woody chose that theme.”
The musical, set in 1929, is about playwright David Shane, who wants to get his new work on Broadway. He finds a financier in the form of wealthy New York gangster Nick Valenti, but there’s a catch: Valenti insists that his no-talent diva girlfriend play the lead. It was nominated for six Tonys, including choreography by Stroman.
Jeff Whiting, who was the associate director of the Broadway production, has taken on the touring production.
“The set on Broadway was so lavish, so I had to make some scenic changes, as well as changes with the choreography and staging,” Whiting said. “I also tailored it to the casts’ strengths, which you would do with any touring company.”
And he had to tailor the show for the great outdoors at Starlight. He said the performers need to become “larger” to become more intimate with the audience.
Stroman said the show will have no trouble filling the big space with its gangsters, music of the Roaring ’20s and lots of dancing, including tap and the famous Charleston.
Her favorite part? “There’s a scene when all of the gangsters come together and do a powerful tap number,” Stroman said. “It’s strong, masculine and the sound that comes from these men’s shoes has so much power.”
Whiting said the show is fun and rhythmic.
Starlight, he said, is “our last stop on the tour, and we’re going out with a bang.”
“Bullets Over Broadway” will play at the Starlight Theatre June 28 to July 3. Tickets range from $11 to $134 at KCStarlight.com.