Star Tribune Review: ‘Nice Work’ takes a delightful bow in the Twin Cities

Rohan Preston, Star Tribune 10/15/14

REVIEW: Jazz Age meets Gershwin tunes and bootleggers in the fun-and-glitzy musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

Sometimes, it seems, environmentalists have nothing on Broadway show producers. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” is a frothy, fun exemplar of the fine art of theatrical recycling.

The diverting, deftly-executed musical comedy, which opened Tuesday at the Ordway Center in St. Paul, mines the catalog of show tunes by George and Ira Gershwin. Songs such as “’S Wonderful,” “Lady Be Good” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” get gorgeous renditions in this show.

But it’s not only the music that’s re-purposed in “Nice Work,” originally staged as a glitzy song-and-dance extravaganza by Tony-winning choreographer and director Kathleen Marshall. (Both the direction and the choreography were “recreated by David Eggers” for this national tour.)

Drawing on the work of British dramatist Guy Bolton, who wrote the stories for the Gershwins’ “Lady Be Good” and Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” book-writer Joe DiPietro finds some clever ways to get to the musical numbers in his bootlegging Jazz Age setting. Sometimes the set-up fits the songs sorta naturally, like when an independent tomboy character and bootlegger, Billie Bendix (Mariah MacFarlane), dreamily sings “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

At other times, the relationship between song and story is quite a stretch.

The plot and subplots borrow from other sources as well, including standard farces and Shakespearean comedies. “Nice Work” revolves around rich, immature playboy Jimmy Winter (Alex Enterline), he of mysterious parentage and not much intelligence. As he tells someone, his father died in childbirth.

Jimmy’s mother, Millicent (Barbara Weetman) threatens to disinherit him if he doesn’t grow up soon. Even though he’s not officially divorced from his last wife, he becomes engaged to Eileen Evergreen (Rachel Scarr), a senator’s daughter known as the world’s finest interpreter of modern dance. But it is Jimmy and bootlegger Billie, who ends up working at his beach house alongside fellow bootleggers, who seem like they were meant for each other. The plot is resolved naturally by a deus ex machina we all know well: Mother.

In addition to its bevy of showgirls and -boys, “Nice Work” also is peopled by bootleggers Cookie McGee (Reed Campbell) and Duke Mahoney (Aaron Fried) as well as Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Stephanie Harter Gilmore), a senator’s sister who founded the unfortunately named Society of Dry Women.

The cast of “Nice Work” deliver with an easy style. Enterline plays dumb well, but he’s also a fluid dancer. He has a fairly good match in MacFarlane, who shows us Billie’s tough side.

The quirky characters are the funniest, including Gilmore’s chandelier-swinging duchess, Scarr’s narcissistic Eileen and the stock-in-trade bootleggers. None of them miss a beat in this glitzy production that is as entertaining as it is frivolous.

The show doesn’t follow the usual internal logic of theater. It opens, for example, with a big musical dance number at a speakeasy following the news that Jimmy is getting married. That sequence would have more impact if we knew at that point what the story was about. Similar numbers pop up throughout “Nice Work.”

But who cares for such things as good structure and meaning? This plot is just an excuse for some great song and dance. On that score, “Nice Work” amply delivers.

See the full Star Tribune article here.

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