Take a classic George and Ira Gershwin musical, rewrite the book, add a whole bunch of Gershwin hits not in the original, and what have you got? Well, until recently the answer would have been “The New Gershwin Musical Comedy” Crazy For You, right?
Since 2012, however, there have been two correct answers to the above question, 1992’s Crazy For You having recently been joined by Nice Work If You Can Get It (which bills itself simply as “A New Musical Comedy”), the latter now getting its very first L.A.-adjacent production as its First National Tour makes its 30th-and-final stop at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts—and to quote from one of the show’s lesser known ditties, it’s simply “delishious!”
Crazy For You’s point of departure was 1930’s Girl Crazy, its brand-new book written by Lend Me A Tenor’s Ken Ludwig. Nice Work If You Can Get it starts with the Gershwins’ 1926 hit Oh, Kay! (itself revived on Broadway in 1991), brings in Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) to rewrite “material by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse,” then adds nineteen classic George & Ira songs to the two it retains from Oh, Kay! (“Do, Do, Do” and “Someone To Watch Over Me”) including such classics as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “’S Wonderful,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “But Not For Me,” “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” “They All Laughed,” and of course the title tune. To quote from Ira, “Who could ask for anything more?”
Both Oh, Kay! and Nice Work If You Can Get It start with the same protagonist, much-married man about town Jimmy Winter (Alex Enterline), then stir in a band of Prohibition-era bootleggers (and four hundred or so cases of bathtub booze stashed unbeknownst to our hero in his Long Island beach house). Oh, Kay!’s titular English bootlegger has become pants-wearing (but equally female) American Billie Bendix (Mariah MacFarlane), aided and abetted by comic cohorts-in-crime Cookie (Reed Campbell) and Duke Mahoney (Aaron Fried).
Additional characters include Jimmy’s latest bride (and “the world’s finest interpreter of modern dance”) Eileen Evergreen (Rachael Scarr), Police Chief Berry (Thomas Schario), chorus girl Jeannie Muldoon (Stephanie Gandolfo), socially conservative Senator Max Evergreen (Benjamin Perez), and Jimmy’s high society mother Millicent Winter (Barbara Weetman).
Last but not least there’s Demon Rum’s greatest enemy (and Society Of Dry Women founder) Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Stephanie Harter Gilmore), who never goes anywhere without her very own vice squad in tow.
Book writer DiPietro knows his way around jukebox musicals, having previously penned the book for 2005’s All Shook Up, and just as he mined the 1950s for all they were worth in “The Elvis Musical,” his spoofing of The Roaring 20s is every bit as hilarious. Lines like “My father died in childbirth” and “Even though we just met, I already love you more than any of my other four wives” give just a hint of DiPietro’s delishious brand of camp.
And since this is farce of the first order, you can bet there’ll be plenty of surprise plot twists and turns, abundant physical comedy, loads of absurd situations, and one false and/or mistaken identity after another.
Nice Work If You Can Get It is also the latest Broadway musical from Kathleen Marshall, Tony nominated once again for both direction and choreography, her work having been meticulously recreated for the National Tour by David Eggers, which means razor-sharp performances and one show-stopping song-and-dance number after another.
Broadway’s Nice Work If You Can Get It featured about as all-star a cast as Broadway money can buy, including Matthew Broderick, Kelli O’Hara, Judy Kaye, Michael McGrath, Jennifer Laura Thompson, and the legendary Estelle Parsons.
If First National Tour’s Enterline, MacFarlane, et al don’t ring a bell (nor boast a single Broadway or off-Broadway credit among them) in addition to being a decade or two younger than their Broadway counterparts, it’s because the production team opted to send Nice Work If You Can Get It out as a non-Equity tour. For this reason too, Nice Work’s orchestra has been cut down to eight members, and its sets adapted from Derek McLane’s original Broadway design by Shoko Kambara for quick transport from city to city, often after a single performance.
Whatever legitimate complaints Equity members may have about non-Equity tours, the good news in Costa Mesa is that not only does Nice Work look about the farthest thing from a “bus-and-truck” tour as you could imagine (Martin Pakledinaz’s Tony-nominated Original Broadway costume designs in particular are quite spectacular indeed), it sounds great too, its eight musicians seeming like quite a few more, and what its cast what they may lack in years (or years of experience), they more than make up for in talent.
Leading man Enterline tops a miscast Broderick in just about every way possible, bringing the triple-threat gifts of a young Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Donald O’Connor all rolled up into one in a performance effervescing with likeability that heralds great things ahead for the 2014 OCU grad.
O’Hara’s Billie scored the Broadway superstar a Tony nomination and McGrath and Kaye won a pair of Tonys for their Estonia and Cookie, and if the stellar work being done by their touring counterparts is any indication, it’s easy to see why.
MacFarlane is feisty perfection as Billie. She can sing, she can dance, she can act both Brooklyn and pseudo-Cockney, and she can charm the pants off a leading man, while Campbell and Gilmore steal scenes right and left as a grown-up Dead End Kid and a straight-laced finger-pointer just bursting to break free—and swing from a chandelier.
Fried’s Duke and Gandolfo’s Jeannie provide plenty of low-comedy relief, and sing and dance “Do It Again” and “Blah Blah Blah” as engagingly as it gets. Scarr’s Eileen not only spoofs Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham to hilarious perfection, she makes the untouchable (and untouched) Eileen the best thing to step out of a bathtub—along with a bevy of bathing beauties of both genders—since who knows when. Schario’s Chief Barry is another winner as is L.A. native Perez’s droll turn as ultraconservative Senator Max, with a delightfully imperious Weetman doing her best Allison Janney as deus ex machina Millicent.
Jessica Bare (Rosie), Kayla Starr Bryan (Olive), Christian Bufford (Slim), Elyse Collier (Alice), Nick Jones (Elliot), Kristina King (Flo), assistant dance captain Kevin Michael Raponey (Vic), Justin Schuman (Floyd), Heather Stinson (Midge), and Chris Woods (Fletcher) do their song-and-dance thing indistinguishably from an Equity tour ensemble, which is the highest praise I can bestow on them.
Carl DeForrest Hendin and dance captain Alison Morooney are swings. Sarah Primmer is standby for Duchess and Millicent.
Original Broadway designers Peter Kaczorowski and Tony nominee Brian Ronan get credit for their lighting and sound, and both designs are outstanding as are Paul Huntley’s Broadway hair and wig design. Tour credits go to Amy Clark (costume coordinator), Paul Toben (lighting design) and Keith Caggiano (sound design). The original Broadway production’s associate conductor Shawn Gough now serves as music supervisor and Bill Elliott’s Tony-nominated Broadway orchestrations have been niftily adapted for the tour’s smaller orchestra by David Chase, the Original Broadway production’s music supervisor.
San Diego’s 2-time Scenie-winning musical director Charlie Reuter scores top marks for cast vocals and for conducting and playing keyboards in the tour’s tiptop pit orchestra, completed by Scott Cho, Tom Cuffari, Jim Geddes, Franz Mehrfert, David Richards, Max Robinson, and Derek Stoltenberg.
Stacy Myers is company manager. Stanley Ralph is company supervisor.
If Crazy For You’s success is any example of what’s to come, we can likely expect regional theaters to jump on the Gershwin bandwagon with locally staged productions of Nice Work If You Can Get It in years to come.
For the time being, however, and particularly since this is the very last stop in Nice Work If You Can Get It’s 30-city tour, I’d head on down to Costa Mesa to catch this fabulous show while you can get it. It’s a George & Ira Gersh-winner from start to finish.
March 17, 2015
Photos: Jeremy Daniel