Your grandmother’s musical theatre is back on old Broadway in this featherlight confection that’s a daffy delight.
Like a jukebox musical for the flapper set, half the fun comes, just like Mamma Mia!, in not knowing which infectious classic will pop up next. The big hits, such as “Someone To Watch Over Me” and ” ‘S Wonderful”, are all there, along with a clutch of lesser known but equally lovely songs from the Gershwin treasure trove.
Joe Di Pietro’s book, based ever so loosely on 1926’s Oh, Kay, offers a flow of hearty laughs and a central romance that’s utterly charming. There is at least one subplot too many, with proceedings grinding to a halt late in act one for the charm song “Do It Again,” a duet between Jeannie and Duke, two previously unimportant characters. Their act two duet, the affectingly romantic “Blah, Blah, Blah”, is more welcome.
The comedy builds to a hilarious dining room scene in act two before ultimately climaxing with a multitude of fortuitous couplings. The last minute arrival of Mother gives Estella Parsons the lightest load of any current actress on Broadway.
Matthew Broderick is in surprisingly good form as playboy Jimmy Winter, singing with his characteristic understated charm and nailing a multitude of laughs with his dry, sardonic inflection.
Kelli O’Hara continues to shine as one of Broadway’s most talented and valuable leading ladies, beaming with beauty even beneath the flat cap of notorious bootlegger Billie Bendix. Her singing is divine, a faint earthy hint of Doris Day-style character giving her voice the perfect period sound for the role. While her briefly used cockney accent leaves a little to be desired (maybe this is intentional), her performance throughout is charming and her terrific physical comedy skills are an added bonus.
Jennifer Laura Thompson channels Madeline Khan, red hair and all, as Eileen Evergreen, the world’s greatest performer of interpretative dance. Mighty Judy Kaye commands the stage in her scenes as Duchess Estonia Dulworth, landing some sensational comedy involving a dining room table and a chandelier.
Michael McGrath has a ball as fast-talking Cookie McGee the ‘butler’. McGrath’s work with Kaye is a highlight of the various subplots, peaking with their act two duet “Looking For A Boy.”
Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall works her usual magic with the integration of comedy, romance and dance, creating a pitch perfect ode to musical comedy of yore. The cast ostensibly play it straight, but with just enough hint of a wink to be clear that the cast are all in on the joke with the audience. A flat out parody would have fallen flat long before the 165 minutes were over.
Although sadly missing a tap number, the dancing is as wonderful as could be hoped for, easily living up to Marshall’s previous work in Anything Goes, Kiss Me, Kate etc. Highlights include the all-dance act two opener “Lady Be, Good” and “Delishious”, the appropriately titled bathtub number. Matthew Broderick is a sport, taking part in plenty of ensemble dance, but an extended pas de deux for he and O’Hara after ” ‘S Wonderful” betrays the limitations of his abilities.
Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are a witty delight. Prohibition agents in licorice allsorts pinstripes dance with matching chorines in a rainbow of pastels. O’Hara plays against type in tailored menswear and Thompson floats on stage in any number of gossamer gowns, not to mention the world’s longest wedding dress train.
Derek McLaine’s scenic design frames the action on lush rococo backdrops, which easily establish the grand Long Island mansion locale.
Doing away with the old lament: “they don’t write them like they used to anymore”, Nice Work If You Can Get It is just like they used to write, maybe better.
Nice Work If You Can Get It It officially opens 24 April 2012 for an open ended run.
Reviewed 2pm Saturday 14 April 2012 at Broadway’s Imperial Theater.
Rehearsal Photos: Bruce Glikas