Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Ah, I like a Gershwin tune. In January I was in tears at the end of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Just three months later, I was nearly dancing out of the theatre after seeing Nice Work If You Can Get It, a new Broadway musical featuring George and Ira’s greatest hits, along with several unknown gems. Being a critic is definitely nice work, and in the case of these two standout shows this season, I’m glad I’ve got it.

And as if all that clever and romantic music (21 songs under the musical supervision of David Chase) weren’t enough, the show stars one of my favorite Broadway performers, Kelli O’Hara, lighting up the stage at the Imperial Theatre with her full triple threat singing, dancing and acting radiance. Throw in the nebbishy, deadpan charm of her costar, Matthew Broderick, the exhilarating choreography of director Kathleen Marshall, a hilarious supporting cast and a megawatt chorus that definitely has rhythm and you’ve got the kind of good old-fashioned romantic musical comedy of yesteryear. S Wonderful!

The madcap story (book by Memphis book and lyric writer Joe DiPietro) centers around Billie Bendix (O’Hara), a bootlegger in 1927 New York and Jimmy Winter (Broderick) the “plastered playboy” she meets by chance on the eve of his fourth wedding. Her only concern at first is where to conceal her latest shipment of illegal booze. When Jimmy passes out after mentioning his Long Island mansion that he never uses, Billie steals his wallet, looks at the address and figures that the basement of that unused house will be the ideal hiding place.

This little plan hits a major snag the next day when a sober Jimmy shows up at the house that is going to be very much used that day -- for his wedding. As his fiancé, family and guests arrive, mayhem has its jolly reign as Billie and her cohorts try to keep their stash secret. Along the way, as you might guest, Billie and Jimmy just happen to fall in love.

O’Hara holds nothing back, unleashing her talent for screwball comedy, most especially in her “Treat Me Rough” number when she tries to seduce Jimmy in his bedroom. Judy Kaye, as the Prohibitionist Duchess Estonia Dulworth, also has a wacky high point when, crocked on spiked lemonade, she ends up swinging from the chandelier and singing “Looking for a Boy.” Michael McGrath is great as Cookie McGee, one of Billie’s bootlegging friends posing as Jimmy’s butler.

It’s hard to single out only a few wacky scenes in this show, which has so many. I also loved Jimmy’s fiancé, Eileen Evergreen (Jennifer Laura Thompson), in a big very pink tub in a very pink bathroom (great larger-than-life sets by Derek McLane) singing “Delishious.” A chorus of Bubble Girls pop up out of the water and dance around the tub, followed by Bubble Boys ballet dancing in their wake. Yes, indeed, it is delishious.

But then, what’s a romantic comedy without the romance? That was best served up when Billie and Jimmy dance their way around the living room and atop the furniture singing “S Wonderful.” That is was.

And it all came together in the closing number with the entire cast -- in their glittery, colorful costumes by Martin Pakledinaz (I adore those flapper dresses) onstage singing “Nice Work.” If you see this show, you won’t just like a Gershwin tune, you’ll love a Gershwin tune. And all that goes with it.

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