Nice Work If You Can Get It Review: Gershwin Good, Broderick Bad
Given the talent assembled to fashion a new musical out of 21 of George and Ira Gershwin’s durably tuneful and witty songs, it should come as no surprise how entertaining “Nice Work If You Can Get It” can be. What’s surprising is how bad it gets.
More surprising is the main reason it gets bad: the performance by Matthew Broderick.
Broderick has been a winning performer for three decades, both on screen (“War Games,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and on stage, starting with “Torch Song Trilogy” Off-Broadway when he was just 19 years old, followed by such Broadway hits as “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and of course “The Producers.”
For his ninth role on Broadway, he plays Jimmy, a rich drunken playboy during the 1920’s who is about to get married for the fourth time but then meets Billie (Kelli O’Hara), a beautiful tomboy bootlegger. There are no literal missteps in Broderick’s performance: He doesn’t forget his lines, doesn’t sing off-key, doesn’t trip over his feet; indeed he keeps up when required with Kathleen Marshall’s fast-moving choreography. But for at least the first half of the show he doesn’t seem fully present. There’s a stiffness, almost a dullness, that I have never seen before in a performance of his, to the point where one wonders whether he is recovering from illness (He did reportedly have back surgery last year.) His near-lifeless performance undermines any chemistry he might have with the as-always exquisite Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific), and proves so distracting that it threatens to cast a pall over the show’s charms.
Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall creates many of those charms using some of the same techniques (and creative team) that worked for her current revival of “Anything Goes” – Bill Elliot’s luscious orchestrations for a 17-member orchestra, Derek McLane’s sumptuous and occasionally witty sets; the elegant and occasionally witty costumes by Martin Pakledinaz. There are razzle-dazzling dance numbers by an energetic, graceful and attractive ensemble in the 21-member cast. (See list of songs below)
The plot is hardly worth explaining – it is full of farcical complications of the boy-gets-girl/mistaken identity variety played out with several couples as a bubbly Jazz Age screwball comedy. Scattered throughout are a couple of good gags (Look for the hot tub scene.) Officially written by Joe DiPietro (Memphis, Toxic Avenger), the book is said in the program to be “inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse,” the twentieth century musical theater writing team responsible for “Anything Goes” and many other hits, including the 1926 “Oh, Kay!” — about a rich playboy and a beautiful bootlegger.
O.K., so “Nice Work If You Can Get It” is not really “a new musical comedy.” Neither were “My One and Only” or “Crazy for You,” the previous posthumous Gershwin musicals, but those were more alive.
Estelle Parsons makes a wonderful entrance, some 15 minutes before the overly long musical has come to an end, doing what she can to liven up the proceedings. Chris Sullivan as big galoot Duke the bootlegger and Robyn Hurder as dumb blonde chorus girl Jeannie give a hilarious rendition of “Blah, Blah,Blah” –
Blah, blah, blah, blah moon,
Blah, blah, blah above.
Blah, blah, blah, blah croon,
Blan, blah, blah, love.
(which neatly sums up my own view of these formula musicals.) Without question, though, the highlight of “Nice Work” are the performances of Judy Kaye and Mike McGrath, as a prohibitionist who loosens up when she mistakenly imbibes, and the bootlegging second banana who spikes her lemonade. Kaye literally swings from the chandelier. Their lively and engaged clowning shows what nice work “Nice Work” would be if everybody got it.
“Overture” — Orchestra
“Sweet and Lowdown” — Jimmy, Jeannie, Chorus Girls, Society Guys
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” — Jimmy, Billie
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” (Reprise) — Billie
“Demon Rum” — Duchess, Chief Berry, Senator, Vice Squad
“Someone to Watch Over Me” — Billie
“Delishious” — Eileen, Bubble Girls & Boys
“I’ve Got to Be There” — Jimmy, Jeannie, Chorus Girls
“I’ve Got to Be There” (Reprise) — Jeannie, Chorus Girls
“Treat Me Rough” — Billie
“Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” — Jimmy, Billie, Chief Berry
* “Do It Again” — Jeannie, Duke
“’S Wonderful” — Jimmy, Billie
“Fascinating Rhythm” — Jimmy, Cookie & Company
“Lady Be Good” — Orchestra
“But Not for Me” — Billie
“By Strauss” — Duchess
“Sweet and Lowdown” (Reprise) — Cookie
“Do, Do, Do” — Jimmy, Elliot, Vic, Floyd
“Hangin’ Around With You” — Billie
“Looking for a Boy” — Duchess, Cookie
“Blah, Blah, Blah” — Duke, Jeannie
“Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (Reprise) — Billie, Jimmy
“Will You Remember Me?” — Billie, Jimmy
“I’ve Got to Be There” (Reprise) — Chorus Girls, Vice Squad
“I’ve Got a Crush on You” — Eileen, Chorus Girls, Vice Squad
“Blah, Blah, Blah” (Reprise) — Jeannie, Duke
“Looking for a Boy” (Reprise) — Cookie, Duchess
“Delishious” (Reprise) — Chief Berry, Eileen
“Someone to Watch Over Me” (Reprise) — Jimmy, Billie
“They All Laughed” — Full Company
(* lyrics by Buddy DaSilva, not Ira Gershwin)
For up-to-the-minute New York theater news, views and reviews, follow Jonathan Mandell on his Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater
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Nice Work If You Can Get It
Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Joe DiPietro inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse
Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Martin Pakledinaz, lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski and sound design by Brian Ronan.
Matthew Broderick as Jimmy Winter, Kelli O’Hara as Billie Bendix, Judy Kaye as Estonia Dulworth, Estelle Parsons as Millicent Winter, Michael McGrath as Cookie McGee, Jennifer Laura Thompson as Eileen Evergreen, Chris Sullivan as Duke Mahoney, Robyn Hurder as Jeannie Muldoon, Stanley Wayne Mathis as Chief Berry and Terry Beaver as Senator Max Evergreen. Cameron Adams, Clyde Alves, Kaitlyn Davidson, Jason DePinto, Kimberly Faure, Robert Hartwell, Stephanie Martignetti, Barrett Martin, Michael X. Martin, Adam Perry, Jeffrey Schecter, Jennifer Smith, Joey Sorge, Samantha Sturm, Kristen Beth Williams, Candice Marie Woods.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission.
Nice Work If You Can Get It
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