Huffpost Arts
Fern Siegel Headshot

Stage Door: Nice Work If You Can Get It, The City Club

Posted: Updated:

Nice Work If You Can Get It has a glorious Gershwin score, frothy, screwball plot, strong ensemble and Kelli O'Hara. What it doesn't have is a leading man. Instead of adopting the role of a wealthy, irresponsible Twenties playboy with light-footed élan, Matthew Broderick suffers through his dance routines, moving as little as possible, and frequently mopping his brow after a number. Worse, there is no chemistry with O'Hara.

It's unfortunate the show didn't tap Andrew Rannells of Book of Mormon fame. He would have added zip and style -- a perfect match for O'Hara. Plus, he's the right age for the part. Instead, Broderick reprises his role as Leo Bloom in The Producers, a lethargic nebbish with a whiny, irritating voice.

Now at the Imperial Theatre, the Broadway show is based, in part, on George and Ira Gershwin's Oh, Kay!, augmented by other wonderful Gershwin songs. Joe Dietro's book was "inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse," masters of the social farce, and he gets it just right.

Casting woe aside, there is much to enjoy -- bootleggers, chorus girls, wisecracking criminals, fun sets and the joie de vivre of the era. Broderick plays Jimmy Winter, a wastrel about to marry his fourth wife (a spot-on Jennifer Laura Thompson), a narcissistic interpretive dancer. But when he stumbles on Billie Bendix (the always terrific Kelli O'Hara), a young bootlegger, he's smitten.

There are wonderful jibes at convention, hypocritical politicians and social pretensions. It is all silly fun, with lovely sets and costumes, slick dancers and supporting players who sparkle. Michael McCrath as gangster Cookie McGee is a delight to watch, as are Judy Kaye as the imperious Duchess, Robyn Hurder as sexpot Jeannie Muldoon longing to marry royalty, Chris Sullivan as Duke, the big lug sidekick, and Estelle Parsons as Jimmy's sassy mother.

Nice Work is the second Gershwin production on the boards; Porgy and Bess, a searing musical at the Richard Rodgers, is a potent reminder of the Gershwins' collective genius.

Downtown, a second musical boasts chorines and criminals, but it's far darker in tone. The City Club at the Minetta Lane Theater, set in a classy nightclub in 1934, marries the blues to a film noir sensibility. The dancers are hot -- and Lorin Latarro has staged some eye-popping routines; they alone are worth the price of admission.

Director Mitchell Maxwell has used the space well, telling his story of Chaz Davenport (Andrew Pandaleon), a privileged son of a corrupt family "that has run this town for generations." It's unclear which city we're in, but Chicago or New York is a good guess.

The music is jazz and the blues, the drugs of choice are marijuana and heroin, and the police act like gangsters. They, in the guise of the Lieutenant (Peter Bradbury), sell protection and shakedown anyone who gets in the way. The story lines play out simultaneously on stage, thanks to the tiered sets. Chaz is a bit naïve; he wants to run a clean club, while claiming to know how things work. He's also something of a ladies' man, so when headliner Chrystal (Kristen Martin) is sidelined by Madelaine (Ana Hoffman), the sparks fly.

Throw in a few dirty secrets, big-time corruption and the occasional murder, coupled with a fantastic blues score by James Compton, Tony De Meur and Tim Brown, and City Club serves up steamy entertainment.

Parker (Kenny Brawner) punctuates the action with some soulful numbers, while the women of the elegant City Club, like Chrystal, Maddy and Rose (a terrific Autumn Guzzardi), are first-rate entertainers. Songs like "Lollipop Man" and "Talking to the Devil" shine. There is a second act dance number between Kaitlin Mesh and Patrick O'Neill that is mesmerizing.

The Minetta Lane is a perfect venue for the show, though the book needs to be tighter and Chaz played much savvier. But the production has captured the spirit of the era -- the floor show packs heat.