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'Nice Work If You Can Get It' Review: Bring Back Prohibition

Posted: 04/25/2012 7:33 am

Who says they don't write Broadway musicals like they used to? Joe DiPietro and Kathleen Marshall have teamed up to reshuffle the Gershwin playlist into a new musical, named for the familiar tune "Nice Work If You Can Get It," that is quite simply, to borrow another song title, "Delishious." And with Kelli O'Hara as a bootlegger and Matthew Broderick as a Roarin' Twenties playboy, one can only say bring back Prohibition!

DiPietro, whose jukebox musical Memphis won the 2010 Tony, has taken a Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse tale and stitched together a farcical romantic comedy that has more twists than a pretzel and keeps the laughs building to the final curtain. Marshall, who grabbed the 2011 Tony for her choreography in the sparkling revival of Anything Goes, keeps the entire cast on their toes in a series of dance routines are as exhausting, literally in a couple of numbers, as they are brilliant.

The show opens in a speakeasy off Fulton Street, under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, where Jimmy Winter (Broderick) is throwing a bachelor party before his impending marriage to his fourth wife. Stumbling out of the party, he runs into Billie Bendix (O'Hara), the bootlegger who is providing the hootch for the festivities.

After a snappy duet to the show's title song, Jimmy confides to Billie, dressed as a guy, that is marrying the very proper Eileen Evergreen the next day only to placate his mother, who is threatening to disinherit him. He also lets slip that his ritzy estate on Long Island is empty. Billie needs some place to hide 400 cases of booze, and it doesn't take a dramaturg to guess where she decides to hide the gin.

The complications begin when Jimmy and Eileen show up at the house where Billie and her gang of two has already stashed the booze. They deepen when it turns out that Eileen is the daughter of a senator and the niece of a temperance crusader for the League of Dry Women. But things really get difficult when Jimmy and Billie, who has traded her cloth cap and trousers for a dress, realize they are in love.

The musical numbers are taken from a variety of the Gershwins' collaborations, but they have been so deftly put together it seems Nice Work could be a long lost Gershwin show. Some songs are paired. In one number, "By Strauss," a party ditty the Gershwins wrote in 1936 and was later used in "An American in Paris," is sung in a duet with "Sweet and Lowdown," a song from the 1925 revue "Tip-Toes." And under Bill Elliott's fluid orchestrations, a few bars from other compositions, ranging from "Rhapsody in Blue" to "Cuban Overture," find their way into the score of Nice Work.

Marshall's direction is brisk and her choreography is a marvel. The dance routines are an eclectic and lively tribute both to Broadway musicals of the past as well as great Hollywood extravaganzas. In the first act finale, O'Hara and Broderick waltz up and down a grand staircase, leap over furniture, and twirl each other in a long, breathtaking dance to "'S Wonderful" that calls to mind Fred and Ginger. And that segues into a lavish production number to "Fascinating Rhythm."

But it is O'Hara and Broderick who provide the romantic sparks that light up the stage. By now O'Hara has established herself as the reigning diva of the Broadway stage, and her delivery of "Someone to Watch Over Me" alone shows why. Broderick is forever the sort of innocent imp that audiences take to their hearts on sight. He has the best dead-pan since Jack Benny and can get a laugh just by blinking his eyes.

Everybody gets a turn in the spotlight. In one show-stopping number, Judy Kaye, playing the straight-laced aunt whose lemonade has been laced with gin, bursts into a song-and-dance of "Looking for a Boy." Jennifer Laura Thompson as Eileen has a spectacular moment in a bathtub singing "Delishious." Michael McGrath and Chris Sullivan have their turns as Billie's henchmen, Cookie and Duke, and Estelle Parsons makes the most of a cameo as Jimmy's mother. An excellent chorus of six flappers and six zoot-suited men who double as the vice squad compliment the company.

Although it boasts a funny new book and exciting new dances, the Gershwins' music make Nice Work seem like a revival, and after the successes of South Pacific and Anything Goes the past few seasons, it can take their place as one of the must-sees on Broadway.

 
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