The timeless songs of the Gershwins have once again proven a worthy framework on which to hang a quirky and funny new musical. But the score isn’t the only part of Nice Work If You Can Get It that harkens back to a time gone by. This show is a straight up 1920s farce and features all of the charm of the roaring decade in a neat little package. From the throw-back costumes to the rum-running gangsters defying prohibition to make their living, this show oozes the nostalgia of a romanticized time gone by.
One of the main attractions of this show is its starry cast. Matthew Broderick (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), respected on both stage and screen, plays wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter. His boyish looks and understated delivery lent themselves well to this somewhat dopey character whose frequent presence in compromising situations make him a punch line factory. Kelli O’Hara The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific), one of the best talents on Broadway today, plays female lead Billie Bendix, a tomboyish gangster in the bootlegging business. Her effortless and impeccable singing is one of the biggest pleasures of the show. When she sings one of the better-know tunes “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the audience basks in her sturdy yet vulnerable voice.
These stars are surrounded by a very capable supporting cast. In fact, one of the greatest joys of seeing the show is Judy Kaye’s portrayal of dowager Estonia Dulworth, The Duchess of Woodford, a strict prohibitionist who finds herself a victim of the “Demon Rum” itself, to hilarious effect. It’s no wonder she won a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance (it’s on the shelf right next to the one she earned for originating the role of the diva Carlotta in Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera). Michael McGrath (Monty Python’s Spamalot, Born Yesterday) also won a Tony for the supporting role of gangster Cookie McGee. At my performance, understudy Jeffrey Schecter captured the role’s comic self-interest and pride perfectly. Jennifer Laura Thompson (Wicked, Urinetown) ably plays Jimmy’s teasing fiancee, Eileen Evergreen, and the great Estelle Parsons (Good People, TV’s Roseanne) makes a short but memorable appearance as Jimmy’s hilariously direct mother, Millicent.
There is nothing better than witnessing real talents taking hold of some of the most beloved classic songs in modern memory, and this show delivers this pleasure in spades. Judy Kaye shows her range and agility in numbers such as “By Strauss,” and “Looking for a Boy” while Jennifer Laura Thompson gives a sweet and irreverent rendition of “Delishious.” Company numbers like “Fascinating Rhythm” and “They All Laughed” flesh out these songs in all their glory and show off a capable ensemble and the choreography of Tony Winner Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes, Grease). But there are few things as charming as seeing Broderick and O’Hara duet on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “S’Wonderful.”
The Gershwins are alive again on Broadway and reminding us why there is a theatre down the street named after them. For a taste of true Broadway royalty, grab tickets to Nice Work If You Can Get It, as long as you can still get them.