And Who’s Got The Last Laugh Now…!
April 24, 2012
They laughed at me wanting youSaid I was reaching for the moonBut oh, you came throughNow they’ll have to change their tuneThey all said we never could be happyThey laughed at us and how!But ho, ho, ho!Who’s got the last laugh now?
From the overture’s downbeat to the walking-out music, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT is sheer delight.
The most impressive aspect of this most impressive show is the book by Joe DiPietro (MEMPHIS). While he uses a contemporary sensibility when it comes to the jokes, DiPietro has perfectly structured the story in the style of the 1920s Gershwin musicals (LADY BE GOOD, OH, KAY) that made Gershwin the Broadway champ he was.
A misstep in the book, such as worrying the story is too goofy to make logical sense, could have sunk this production. Instead, DiPietro uses the story as they did in those earlier times, basically as a vehicle to get the show from song to song. Some of the songs fit perfectly, some less so, but they’re all good songs.
So don’t parse it, just enjoy it, because – taken on its own terms – the story is great fun. Some of the character names will give you an idea of what to expect: Jimmy Winter, Billie Bendix, Cookie McGee, Duchess Estonia Dulworth, Senator Max Evergreen, and so forth.
BILLIE: Are you Street-smart?
JIMMY: No, I’m just rich and good-looking; turns out that’s enough….
Okay, here goes: Jimmy Winter (Matthew Broderick) is a playboy with three marriages in his past, and one in his immediate future. The current bride-to-be, Eileen Evergreen, has been chosen by Jimmy to placate his mother (Estelle Parsons), who’s going to disinherit Jimmy if he doesn’t finally settle down by marrying a good woman.
The good woman he chooses is a modern dancer …so brilliant when she steps on stage nobody knows what the hell she’s doing!..., and an utter flake, whose father is a Senator/Judge/Reverend.
On the night before his nuptials, Jimmy throws his own bachelor party – seven or eight chorus girls and Jimmy, which is my idea of a well-planned bachelor party – and, dead drunk, stumbles down the beach, only to run into Billie Bendix, a bootlegger played by Kelli O’Hara.
Jimmy mentions to Billie his mother has a mansion further down the beach, so Billie immediately takes over the mansion as a storehouse for her supply of hooch, while one of her henchmen, Cookie (Michael McGrath) becomes the mansion’s butler.
Billie then stands in front of the mansion, her foot on a case of whiskey, holding a cocked rifle in case any revenuers show up, and sings “Someone to Watch Over Me”.
I warned you it was a goofy story.
Kathleen Marshall’s wonderful direction and choreography create a new old musical that will delight just about everybody. Ms. Marshall has become expert at creating a style evoking a musical set in the ‘20s/’30s, just as she did with the current revival of ANYTHING GOES, which is set a little later.
She brings much of the ANYTHING GOES team with her – Derek McLane (sets), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes), Peter Kaczorowski (Lighting), and Brian Ronan (sound) – who do the same great work they did in the earlier show.
COOKIE: No, no, going back to jail would mean spending more time with my family!...
I guarantee you’ve never seen Kelli O’Hara until you’ve seen her play Billie Bendix, New Jersey accent and all. (There are several New Jersey jokes in the show). Ms. O’Hara turns out to be a dynamite physical comedienne, especially in the red-dress scene, where she has – shall we say – a bit of difficulty mastering the art of getting around on high heels.
The one disconnect is the way her voice goes from a heavy accent when she’s speaking, to entirely clear tones when she sings, but who cares: when Kelli sings, I fall in love with her all over again.
That we know she means it when she sings longingly for someone to watch over her, the gun and booze notwithstanding, is proof positive of Kelli O’Hara’s talent, if any proof is still needed at this point.
Since his triumph in THE PRODUCERS, Matthew Broderick’s forays on Broadway have pretty much rolled box-cars and snake-eyes, but he’s come roaring back in NICE WORK. Of course, he still plays his stock character, but he makes it work this time, or perhaps the story just lends itself to that character.
An oddity: Terri and two of her friends saw the show last week, and hated it because of Mr. Broderick, whom they described as bloated and expressionless. Well, he was neither the night I saw the show, explain that as you will.
…He had the tenacity of an Irish Priest at an open bar….
Several comic actors stand out, none more than Michael McGrath as Cookie, who gives a Nathan Lane-esque portrayal of a thug who (of course) ultimately falls in love, with the leader of the Women’s Temperance Society, Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Judy Kaye).
When Cookie spikes her lemonade with bathtub gin, the Duchess discovers the fun she’s been missing, at one point swinging from the chandelier.
Estelle Parsons only appears for the last few minutes of the show, but she makes terrific use of her limited time, nearly taking over the stage.
I know the producers of NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT had problems securing a theater, and that many observers, myself included, questioned the wisdom of their putting on a Gershwin jukebox musical.
Well, those producers sure have the last laugh now.
Rating (5 stars possible): ****½
The bottom line: Wall to wall fun
Who should go? Everyone
Do I recommend it? Sure, ‘S Wonderful!