"And Gershwin keeps pounding on tin,” the brothers George and Ira Gershwin once sardonically wrote. But a visit to the Imperial Theatre, where Nice Work If You Can Get It appears to be entertaining audiences, will confirm that George’s infectious, lilting tunes and Ira’s clever lyrics still sound remarkably fresh and vibrant. The production, which has a book by Joe DiPietro and was directed and choreographed by a seemingly ubiquitous Kathleen Marshall, stars Kelli O’Hara as a 1920s bootlegger and Matthew Broderick as a millionaire playboy. These two stars (along with a super supporting cast) do a great deal to breathe a bit of life into a musical that still provides us with a rather creaky libretto.
The show’s book by Joe DiPietro is supposedly similar to the one the Gershwin brothers used in 1926 for the production of Oh, Kay! The musical takes place during the Prohibition era and is set on Long Island, where wealthy Jimmy Winter (Matthew Broderick) is scheduled to wed Eileen Evergreen (Jennifer Laura Thompson). But everything changes when Billie Bendix (Kelli O’Hara), a gal who illicitly provides the liquor for the numerous parties that Jimmy often attends, appears on the scene. Billlie, it appears wants someone “who’ll carry the key” to her heart, and this lad need not “put on some speed” because he’s already there. And how can he resist? Even in men’s apparel this gal looks appealingly sexy.
Everything in this old-fashioned musical is meant to please, but there are libretto problems. Still, when the book stalls (and occasionally it certainly does), there’s always someone like the inimitable Judy Kaye who amuses by happily swinging from a huge chandelier. While it’s true that the production often relies on gimmicks to keep things rolling, the supporting players also do much to help. On hand, for example, is Michael McGrath as Cookie McGee, a glorious comedic role that conjures the late great Bert Lahr. (I’m old enough to report that I saw Lahr in several Broadway shows.) Also participating in the festivities here are an amusing Jennifer Laura Thompson, Robyn Hurder and Stanley Wayne Mathis.
Derek McLane has provided the production with elaborate and colorful sets; Martin Pakledinaz is responsible for the excellent lighting design; and David Chase deserves the credit for the lively musical arrangements.
A couple of times during the proceedings, the two protagonists argue that “You like potato and I like po-tah-to;/You like tomato and I like to-mah-to;/Potato, po-tah-to, tomato, to-mah-to--/Let’s call the whole thing off!” But before you call off or cancel a trip to the Imperial, know that although Nice Work... might generally be sniffed at, here and there something shines amid the commonplace proceedings on the Imperial’s stage.