It was nice work and they got it opening night of the Warner Theatre production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It: A New Musical Comedy.”
The show, which originally opened on Broadway in 2012 starring Matthew Broderick as Jimmy Winter and Kelli O’Hara — 2015 Tony Award-winner for “The King and I” — as Billie Bendix, is set in the 1920s during the prohibition, flapper and jazz era and features the music of George and Ira Gershwin. Bootlegger Billie (Marcia Masio) and her cohorts, Duke Mahoney (Richard McKenna) and Cookie McGee (Joe Guttadauro) are trying to sell over 400 cases of hooch when our tomboyish female ingenue meets the wealthy, partying Jimmy (Rick Fountain) who’s getting married soon to prove he’s responsible and please his mom and who has a beach house his family “never uses.” The bootleggers decide to stash their alcohol there and then have to play servants when Jimmy and his fiancee, Eileen Evergreen (Christiane Olson) show up the next day before their nuptials, requiring a lot of deceit.
The plot of the show doesn’t always make sense, jumping into musical numbers for no reason like Jimmy’s initiation of a dance break to stop The Vice Squad from searching the basement where the hooch is hiding. But the book by Joe DiPietro is lively and comical in using a modern perspective to pull off jokes looking back on the time period, like the double meaning in the “Society for Dry Women,” led by Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Lana Peck) in efforts to eradicate the “demon rum,” or political references. The show is a caricature of the time period it represents and doesn’t cease to make you laugh. There is a big twist at the end though that comes out of left field and is probably the strongest moment in the writing when it comes to plot.
But honestly, you don’t come to the show for the plot. You come for the music and the dancing. The show brings jazz to life at a time where that genre of music was considered new and edgy. The pit orchestra, which also included pit singers, is a vital part of the show, taking us back to the music of the Gershwins, with familiar classics like “Rhapsody in Blue” motifs.
Director/Choreographer Sheila Waters-Fucci put together exquisite, precise and fun dance numbers, including tap. All of the female dancers had grace and energy in their dancing. While many of the men clearly had less experience and had to work at it to get the technical dance steps down, they all had smiles on their faces and kept up with the women with never-fading enthusiasm. This is a heavy dance show.
The costumes were the bling of this production from the sparkling dresses of the flappers to the colorful dresses of Jimmy’s lady friends. Renee C. Purdy and Matthew Dettmer were co-costume designers for the show.
The most complicated wardrobe change was for Olson as Evergreen, who appears to do a whole dance naked (though she clearly has a nude-colored, strapless body suit of sorts), covered with a pink sheet blanket held by the dancers during her bath song “Delshious,” which they then wrap around her like a towel. There was a moment when the sheet dropped too low in a near wardrobe malfunction and the wrapped edge did come undone requiring Olson to casually re-tuck it as she sang. But those were only minor hiccups and it was impressive she was able to do an entire song and work in the sheet to her choreography and blocking nearly effortlessly.
The actors had special costumes for the bows.
There was a lot of musical talent in the cast, particularly in Jean-Marie McGrath as Jeannie Muldoon, Maslo as Billie, Fountain as Jimmy and Lana Peck as Dulworth. Maslo’s microphone had a lot of problems in the second act, resulting in distracting static, but she powered through with unwavering poise and her vocal prowess still shone through with her beautifully clear soprano.
Peck may be little, but she has the pipes of an opera singer with a wide range. And she proved she can sing high vibrato and hold a note in her “By Strauss”/”Sweet and Lowdown” voice battle with Cookie. She also had one of the funniest songs of the show when her stern, dry character accidentally becomes drunk.
As an ensemble, there were pitch problems on some harmonies in held high notes toward the end of “Fascinating Rhythm” before intermission and it didn’t seem like those notes were intended to be discordant. However, the footwork in that scene was fast and the dancing was captivating.
Holly McCan served as music director for the show.
Comedic timing was something the cast at the whole did well at, particularly Maslo as Billie, Fountain as Jimmy and Billie’s bootlegger pals, Cookie and Duke. I loved the moment before the wedding luncheon when three of the actors popped their heads up from behind the table when you didn’t expect they were there for “Do, Do, Do.”
This cast also had a lot of chemistry and every ensemble and smaller part was important to ornamenting the scenery and story. Catherine Thoben Quirk (Millicent Winter) doesn’t appear on stage until the very end of Act 2, but she is very present and her character is a plot catalyst who reveals a big twist you don’t see coming. She also delivers some of the most notably comedic lines in the show in the form of social and political commentary.
You’ll also recognize familiar songs like the Gershwin brothers’ “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” made popular by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and “S’ Wonderful.”
And s’ wonderful the show was.
The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 15, with matinee shows starting at 2 p.m. and evening shows starting at 8 p.m. You can get more information on the production and tickets at http://www.warnertheatre.org.