Woody Allen fans already know the story and there is no original music, so the fate of the show falls squarely on the shoulders of director/choreographer Susan Stroman and her actors they do not disappoint. There is something so seamless in shows where the director and choreographer are one in the same. Stroman's love of the leggy showgirl is alive and kicking, literally. Her dancers are statuesque and technically perfect, though it helps that most of them are off-season Radio City Rockettes. They don't merely perform in dance breaks, but Stroman also integrates them into the sets and uses them to transition between scenes. Also, watch out for a surprise tap number, I promise it comes out of nowhere!
Zach Braff in the role of David is the surprise of the Broadway season. We have never seen him in a musical and he does not disappoint. His singing is merely serviceable, but his timing is impeccable and his reactions to the zany antics of the other characters are priceless. David is a newbie to show business and you get the feeling that he is just trying to keep up with everything that his happening around him; Braff plays it perfectly. Marin Mazzie is simply divine in the role of Helen Sinclair, the show's grand diva. She commands attention, but shows just enough vulnerability that you still like her. Her transformation into this role is incredible, and for a while you forget you are watching Mazzie. Her commitment to the role is without question from the vocal inflection to the posture and carriage.
Betsy Wolfe is quite lovable in the role of Ellen, David's girlfriend from Pittsburgh, and her singing is heavenly, but unfortunately the character doesn't do the actress justice. She does what she can with the role, but the material given to her is too slight for a performer of her caliber. Karen Ziemba, one of Stroman's favorite performers, plays Eden, another actress in the show within the show. It saddens me when brilliant dancers start to show their age, but she still has a killer attitude turn and is transitioning seamlessly into the comic relief character. Brooks Ashmankas plays Warner Purcell, the male lead in David's play and, without giving away any punch lines, he reinvents the phrase "physical comedy". Vincent Pastore plays Nick Valenti, a mob boss, and dare I say the role he was born to play. He bankrolls David's play in order to give his girlfriend Olive the chance to be a star. He also leads the cast in a choral rendition of "Yes, We Have No Bananas," but I will let you figure that one out.
Helene York steals Act I in the role of Olive. From a hot dog number to a few stellar one-liners like "I'm going to put a shiv through your liver in your sleep," she lands every single joke in true zinger fashion. She lets them fly left and right and though she pushes the limit in every scene, she never once goes too far. In Act II, Cheech (Nick Cordero) takes over scene stealing duties as the play writing gangster who we still find it in our hearts to love for his, umm, artistic soul.
It is zany, out of control, is not ashamed to go for a cheap laugh here and there, and it may be a slight ripoff of The Producers, but this is a big fat fantastic show! It will be a hit and should be the frontrunner for Best Musical come June so buy your tickets now!