By Karen Isaacs
Nice Work If You Can Get It is not a great musical. But, and it is a big but, it is fun, tuneful and being given an excellent production at the Bushnell in Hartford through Feb. 8.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we can hear those wonderful Gershwin tunes — “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “But Not For Me,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” plus some humorous and some lesser known Gershwin tunes.
The plot is silly. It is based on the 1920s Gershwin hit Oh, Kay but the book has been substantially revised and many Gershwin songs added to the show. The show is set in Long Island in the 20s and involves a many-times married playboy, his most recent fiancée, a group of rum-runners, a strident anti-liquor crusader and various law enforcement types in pursuit of the mastermind behind the operation.
But it is really all about the playboy Jimmy Winters (Alex Enterline) and his budding romance with the tom-boy rum-runner Billie Bendix (Mariah MacFarlaine). Billie has two sidekicks — “Duke” Mahoney (Aaron Fried) and Cookie McGee (Reed Campbell) who end up — don’t ask why or how — as the chef and butler at Jimmy’s Long Island mansion. There’s also a bevy of show girls — a standout is Stephanie Gandolfo as Jeannie Muldoon, a very unusual police chief Thomas Scharo and, of course, Jimmy’s latest bride-to-be Eileen Evergreen (Rachel Scarr) who is not only a modern dancer but the daughter of a senator. Do not forget the anti-liquor crusader, Estonia Dulworth (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) and a cameo by Jimmy’s mother (Barbara Weetman).
Let’s not try to describe the various machinations of the plot — they are not supposed to make sense, just to add complications to the inevitable — that Jimmy and Billie will end together. But in the process everyone else gets paired up as well — so all cam live, “happily ever after.”
Admittedly, not all the songs are well integrated into the show. While I found the song good fun, I’m not sure why “Delishious” — song by the fiancée in the bath was included. But there are enough well-known songs to so that everyone can feel like humming along AND enough lesser known songs to introduce unfamiliar material.
Nice Work has a Connecticut connection. The show was produced in 2001 at Goodspeed as They All Laughed! Before it reached Broadway in 2012, it had several additional workshops and productions and new collaborators. Joe DiPetro has the credit for the book.
On Broadway it starred Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara and won Tonys for Michael McGrath as Cookie and Judy Kaye as Estonia.
So how does this production compare with the Broadway one? On the whole, well — I actually liked Enterline better than Broderick as Jimmy. He sings and dances well and projects that “playboy” charm so prevalent in ’20s shows. MacFarlaine is very good as Billie but Kelli O’Hara has a special magic.
The dancing of the ensemble is terrific. The set is a good replication of the Broadway set though it did seem that there were more static “in front of the curtain” numbers than I recalled. Perhaps the Broadway house dealt with scenery changes differently. It also seemed that some of the scenes were played too far back on the stage.
For once, I did not complain about the Bushnell sound system. It was not blasting and for the most part both dialogue and lyrics were understandable.
So, if you want a show that doesn’t require deep analysis, where everyone marries the right person, and the songs are “delicioushious” then you will enjoy Nice Work If You Can Get It.
But if you want serious, meaningful and realistic — this may not be your cup of tea.
Nice Work If You Can Get It is at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford through Feb. 8. For tickets visit bushnell.org.