Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Theater Review: Nice Work If You Can Get It -- The Bushnell

The cast of Nice Work I f You Can Get It. Photo: Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Settling in for Gershwin Tunes, Witty Script is Nice Work if You Can Get It (and I did!)
By Lauren Yarger
I love a Gershwin tune, how about you?

I also love my job as a theater critic and It’s Nice work When You Can Get It to sit back, relax and enjoy more than two and a half hours of George and Ira Gershwin tunes -- especially when enhanced by fabulous direction and choreography by Kathleen Marshall.

And oh, yeah, the silly, witty book by favorite writer Joe DiPietro (Memphis, Toxic Avenger, All Shook Up) isn’t too bad either in this tour of the production making a stop this week at The Bushnell. It almost doesn’t feel like a jukebox musical with a portfolio of tunes wrapped around a silly plot.

Silly it is. With a few political digs woven in a witty script housing almost 30 tunes like “But Not For Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” that make you want to sing along. And, unfortunately, some folks at the performance I attended decided to do just that -- in out-of-key voices all night long, so be prepared.)

DiPietro’s book (which got its earliest tryouts here at Goodspeed as They All Laughed) is inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse and follows the hijinks of bootleggers and rich folks in Prohibition era New York

Billie Bendix (Mariah MacFarlane) and her bootlegging buddies, Duke Mahoney (Aaron Fried) and Cookie McGee (Reed Campbell), work for the elusive Brownbeard, king of the underground liquor market. They need a place to stash their illegal product when Police Chief Berry (Thomas Schario) starts getting too close.

Billie thinks she sees an easy mark when playboy Jimmy Winter (Alex Enterline) tells her his large summer place on Long Island is sitting empty (the soaring, stage-filling sets are recreated for the tour by Shoko Kambara, based on the original Broadway scenic design by Derek McLane).

He also tells her a few other things, like he’s not really in love with his soon-to-be fourth wife, Eileen Evergreen (Rachael Scarr), the daughter of a senator (Benjamin Perez). He is just marrying her to convince his controlling mother, Millicent (Barbara Weetman), that he is mature enough to take over the family business – even though he has no idea what that business involves.

Sparks ignite between the two and they are surprised to meet up again when Jimmy shows up unexpectedly for his honeymoon at the summer place the bootleggers planned to use as a hideaway. Cookie poses as the butler, Billie is a Cockney maid and Duke is mistaken for British royalty by Jimmy’s chorus-girl groupie friend Jeannie Muldoon (Stephanie Gandolfo).

Lots of romance and hilarity ensue, especially when Eileen’s speakeasy-burning, uppity duchess Aunt Estonia Dulworth (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) arrives with her vice squad in tow. Let’s just say there’s drunken swinging from a chandelier, poetry, modern dance and chorus girls popping out of bubble baths  -- all guffaw-inducing and brilliantly directed. And I do mean brilliant – with opulent drapes and sparkling flapper-inspired costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, coordinated here by Amy Clark with lighting designed by Paul Toben, based on the original Broadway lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski.

The small band under the direction of Charlie Reuter does the score proud and the horns are particularly good. (Orchestrations are by Bill Elliott; Music Arrangements by David Chase; Music Supervision by Shawn Gough.) Marshall’s choreography, recreated for the tour by David Eggers is executed well, but doesn’t capture the magic of the Broadway dancing which I described as “furniture and gravity” defying.

Enterline (making his touring debut) and MacFarlane have nice chemistry and give good turns, as do Scarr (her character’s “modern dance” is a hoot), and most of the ensemble, particularly Campbell, also making his tour debut, who brings in a lot of the laughs with good delivery. Gilmore disappointed a bit, not just because I had been hoping, perhaps unfairly, for more of a show-stopping turn like the one Tony winner Judy Kaye gave as the duchess, but also because the actress was struggling for pitch. Or maybe it was just that those off-key audience members decided to join more often on her songs. . .

Overall, “’swonderful” way to spend about two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.

Catch it through Feb. 8 at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets $26-$82: 860-987-5900;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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