J. Peter Bergman of The Berkshire Bright Focus gives a lovely review of “Nice Work If You Can Get It”
I’m longing to see George or Ira Gershwin. Or Cole Porter. Or Jerome Kern. Each of these classic songwriters for the Broadway theater have received the “Goodspeedizing” that encircles the current offering at the Mac-Haydn Theater in Chatham, New York. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” is a reworking of the hit musical “Oh, Kay!” which the Gershwin brothers wrote in 1926 with P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton for emerging British star Gertrude Lawrence. She played a member of the British upperclass who is moonlighting as a bootlegger and she and her compatriots take refuge from the authorities in a fabulous Long Island mansion where, disguised as the maid she falls in love with Jimmy Winter whose home this is. Both shows share this basic plot but with a difference.
The Gershwin original offered a cadre of hit songs including “Do-Do-Do”, “Fidgety Feet,” “Maybe,” “Clap Yo’ Hands,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and many others. It also had those numbers which move the show along but which don’t stand out as take-away hits. When Goodspeed gets ahold of one of these shows, the lesser numbers are tossed out and other top ten hit songs replace them. This makes the show much more a plot-heavy revue, a best-of sort of experience. Playwright Joe DiPietro has become known for this sort of work, even in non-musicals. He does it well, but I find it tiresome and annoying. I’d love to have had another chance to see “Oh, Kay!” Oh, well. Gershwin, a brilliant composer, used leitmotiv to distinguish Kay from the crowd, a very Wagnerian technique now lost as most of her original songs are gone and only two of the hits above retained for this new version.
This edition features songs written between 1922 and 1946. Gertrude Lawrence, Oscar Shaw and Victor Moore, all top Broadway contenders in 1926 are replaced here by Beatrice Crosbie (Kay now named Billie but nicknamed Gertrude – get it?), Wayne Shuker as Jimmy and Andrew Jordan DeWitt (Shorty McGee now called Cookie McGee – why? I don’t know) who disguises himself as the butler. All three do an excellent job in their roles. There is no surprise here to learn that this new show had its first tryout at Goodspeed back in 2001.
Shuker is both handsome and agile and his character’s flaws – including multiple marriages – work against his chances with Billie. It is easy to see, in Shuker’s playing, why he sets her teeth on edge while at the same time turning her head into a lover’s tailspin. He is elegantly disarming dressed or stripped. He sings and dances with obvious talent and charm. He is the ideal 1920’s leading man.
His lady-love, Billie the bandit, is played by Beatrice Crosbie with a style that easily matches Shuker’s and does him one better. She has a lovely voice and she moves with the comic grace the role requires. She is both moving and humorous and when Jimmy’s ex-wife Ginger is brought to light the references to her and Jimmy make you think instantly of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who introduced at least one major number in this show.
Her rival, Eileen Evergreen is hilariously portrayed by Eryn LeCroy whose Eliza Doolittle here so delighted me. This is a very different sort of role and to my surprise and delight she tackles Eileen with equal fervor and produces a performance that makes me forget her previous appearance only two weeks ago. Brava!
Her father is played in an over-the-top manner by Don Dolan and Lisa Franklin plays Jimmy’s wayward mother with a simple honesty that surprises and amuses at the same time. Sarah Kawalek brings to the role of Jeannie Muldoon a comic imbalance that works every time she speaks or moves. Her swain, Duke Mahoney is given a solid interpretation by Conor Robert Fallon, particularly in the song “Blah, Blah, Blah.”
Daniel Klingenstein as Chief Berry and Shannon Haddock round out the principal company in two delightfully different sorts of roles, but as a duo they truly shine. Her rendition of “By Strauss” is a show-stopper and his reprise of “Delishious” is a delight.
The principal fault in this show is the director’s inability to showcase scenes without blocking major portions of the audience from seeing the actors who are speaking. Theater-in-the-round is never easy, but Maddy Apple, director of this show, has a lot to learn about the form. Her choreography also needs a boost. She creates a mean Charleston, but that is not the only dance of the period and I would have loved to see something other than the kick moves of one popular form during the evening.
The show is helped a great deal by the perfect costumes by Jimm Halliday and the excellent lighting by Andrew Gmoser. The five-piece band plays well but is over-amplified.
Love Gershwin songs – see this show. Love exciting young talent on stage – see this show. Hate imperfect production of a piece – consider this show; it’s not perfect but its so much fun. There are nineteen different Gershwin songs including a few you won’t know at all. There are talented players and great clothes. Sometimes that’s just enough for a delightful evening.
Nice Work If You Can Get It plays at the Mac-Haydn Theater, 1925 Route 203, Chatham, NY through June 19. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org.