The Roaring Twenties are roaring again in 2015 as a relatively new Broadway musical nationally touring stops at The Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall.
It’s Nice Work If You Can Get It is an ode to the Gershwin brothers’ music and depicts a transitory era in which edgy jazz, flappers and bootlegging mischief clash with classical music, traditional values and Prohibition.
Everything isn’t as it seems in this play full of deception, from a girl named Billie Bendix (Mariah MacFarlane) who masquerades as a Harvard scholar and Cockney maid, a fake butler named Cookie McGee (Reed Campbell) and a chef named Duke (Aaron Fried) who isn’t a king and can’t cook who are really bootleggers peddling hooch to rich playboy and Ivy League dropout Jimmy Winter (Alex Enterline), who is marrying his third wife before his second marriage is annulled. There’s even a gasp-worthy twist at the end that wasn’t predictable in a comedic musical that has an unexpectedly deep plot.
The show tells intertwining stories of Billie, who sells alcohol on the black market and is a wanted felon, and Jimmy, who is about to get married to show his mother he is responsible even though he is a loose lady’s man. Mariah MacFarlane stands out in the talented cast with a sweet and clear voice that carries the bouncy, playful and powerful expression of jazz melodies through the room. She also has strong character instincts from her clumsy seduction of Jimmy as a distraction from the illegal alcohol she’s storing in his summer home basement to her fancy footwork. Enterline is lovable and shines with his comedic knack, particularly as a drunkard when he meets Billie in the title song, though he doesn’t have enough dazzling charm and chemistry with MacFarlane to make it believable she’d fall for him.
Matthew Broderick played the role in the original Broadway cast.
Campbell will make you laugh when he plays Cookie disguised as a spunky, hot-headed “butler” and Fried’s Duke is like a dim-witted puppy dog you can’t help but love as he pretends he’s the Duke of England, heir to the king’s throne to impress Jeannie Muldoon (Stephanie Gandolfo). Benjamin Perez also gets some laughs as Chief Berry, who says he always seems to find himself in third wheel situations.
Rachael Scarr is like a red-headed, more airy Glinda as she obsesses over her “delicious” self more than her fiance, Jimmy as interpretive dance extraordinaire Eileen Evergreen. The bathtub dance number that transforms her from seemingly naked to draped in a pink sheet robe wrapped around her by dancers in the choreography is artfully done.
You want to hate Stephanie Harter Gilmore’s duchess, a threat to the bootlegging Billie, but you can’t help but be impressed by her acting as a pompous upper class traditionalist and booming singing voice.
Tony Award-winner Joe DiPietro, the writer for Memphis (Tony Award winner for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score) and All Shook Up, adds a flavor of comedy to a time period of pizzaz that romanticizes the music of composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin. He’s not afraid to poke fun at it. Just listen for Prohibitionist and Dry Women’s Club leader Duchess Estonia Dulworth’s (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) jab at the music of Cole Porter and George Gershwin as she sings opera classics over nemesis Cookie’s jazz. The writing is intelligent and will keep you laughing throughout the show.
If you love The Great Gatsby, you’ll appreciate this show, flowing with bubbly (quite literally in the opening number, “Sweet and Lowdown” at the Speakeasy) dance numbers originally choreographed by Kathleen Marshal (Anything Goes, Grease, Little Shop of Horrors and Seussical on Broadway). The dancers pop with precise and dynamic moments with the lively, easy-going, fun-loving attitude of the era in dances like the Charleston.
You’ll also enjoy hearing classics like “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (that potato potahto song) and “‘S Wonderful” with Gershwin themes like “Rhapsody in Blues” sprinkled throughout the show if you like that genre.
When you think about it, the Twenties are a lot like our modern day Twenty-Fifteen. Jazz was a brand new syncopated style of music that was edgy and shocked the cultural norm and the dancing and partying that went along with it were scandalous, yet exciting. That music today is techno, hip hop, rap and remixes with controversial dancing like grinding and twerking and all the rebellion that comes with it, clashing with oldies like classic rock. All in all, very relatable.
It’s nice work and they got it with this musical. And it would be really nice for you to get out to see it.
The show opened Tuesday and runs through Feb. 8 at the Bushnell in Hartford. Visit the Bushnell’s website for more information on the show and tickets.