By Dale King
Suppose you could write a great musical with songs a couple of other guys already composed? And suppose those other guys just happened to be George and Ira Gershwin?
Creating a laugh-laden production from such enviable grist would be nice work if you could get it. But some other folks already got it. As a result, a “brand-new” Gershwin musical production hit Broadway in April 2012.
That energetic song-and-dance conglomeration, called Nice Work If You Can Get It, is currently eliciting plenty of laughter from audiences at the Broward Stage Door Theater in Margate.
“‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ is a fun-filled romp that hearkens back to the days of Prohibition and speakeasies,” said Clayton Phillips, director of this multiple Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning musical comedy that takes a pile of Roaring Twenties ingredients and comes up with a lovable, screwball stage story just right for 21st-century audiences.
Built on a framework of solid Gershwin songs, the show is fleshed out with material from a book by author/playwright Joe DiPietro – the prolific writer who crafted the comic, skit-style show, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, the mellow family tale, Over the River and Through the Woods and jukebox musicals All Shook Up and Memphis, among others.
This show features some excellent performers, many of them triple threats – adept at acting, singing and dancing. Phillips assigns T.J. Lamando to the lead role of Jimmy Winter. Not only does he have a competent grasp of the goings-on, he also bears a strong resemblance to Matthew Broderick, who starred as Winter in the Broadway incarnation.
Songs run a gamut of Gershwin output, from “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “’S Wonderful” to “But Not for Me” and a wonderful ditty called “Blah, Blah, Blah,” a tune so enchanting it receives a quick reprise.
Musical director Dave Nagy truly digs in to make the melodies work.
Here’s the basic plotline. Playboy Jimmy Winter is planning to marry – again! At the same time, three thugs (Rebecca Tucker as Billie Bendix, Michael Small as Cookie McGee and Michael Schneider as Duke Mahoney) are nearby, trying to figure out where to stash 400 cases of booze until they can haul it out of town.
A drunken Jimmy bumps into comely Billie Bendix and is immediately smitten, even though she’s disguised as a man. He explains his plight – that he must marry someone respectable or his mother will disinherit him, but Billie isn’t all that interested until he reveals he has a huge Long Island beach house he never uses. So, she swipes his wallet to get the address and leads her gang to the hideaway.
Minutes after the bootleggers finish moving the hooch, the wedding party unexpectedly arrives at the Long Island manse. From there, the play gets wilder and crazier. The boozers must assume the roles of domestics to hide their true roles and their hoard of alcohol. Jimmy has to keep his fiancée Eileen Evergreen (Emily Freeman) away from Billie.
The Gershwin songs are everywhere. The show runs well over two hours, meaning there are probably too many pickups from the Gershwin boys. And the plot could have been trimmed to save time.
Jimmy and Billie offer a fine rendition of “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” one she brings back in an elegant reprise. “Demon Rum” gathers all the folks who are here to fight Demon Rum – the Duchess, Chief Berry (Michael Collins), Senator Evergreen (Jerry Weinberg) and the Vice Squad.
Emily Freeman, whose penchant for playing antic protagonists is well known, shows up heavily lathered in a ritzy bathtub scene to sing “Delishious,” a slick song, another tune offering an appealing play on words.
Phillips deserves kudos for pulling together a raft of fine characters in this perfectly marvelous production. Small, as Cookie McGee, has a lively impact as leader of the thugs. His characterization roils with physical comedy touches.
Freeman is top-notch, fueling her role as the soon-to-be-left-at-the-altar bride with a fervent love of modern dance and a major effort to grab at all the goodies wealth brings. When things seem to be failing, she runs to daddy, the senator played with political incorrigibility by Jerry Weinberg.
We have to give a lot of credit, too, to choreographer Danny Durr, seen in many shows at Broward Stage. He lets his feet do the hard work to create some expert dance numbers – the perfect accompaniment to Gershwin tunes.
Ensemble members who bring the dance steps to life include Austin Carrol, Jamie Lyn Cleary, Evan Dolan, Jonathan Eisele, Jennifer Fain, Connor Hubbard, Barry Kramer, Natalie McPherson, Sarah Rose and Kelly Ziegler. They maintain the energy from start to finish.
Nice Work If You Can Get It plays through April 15 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Margate. Tickets are $48. (Student prices are also available). Tickets may be purchased by calling 954-344-7765 or visiting www.stagedoorfl.org.