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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
at the Imperial

LET'S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF
By JOANNE KAUFMAN

  Matthew Broderick with Robyn Hurder and ladies of the ensemble/ Ph: Joan Marcus

In the second scene of Nice Work if You Can Get It, the following exchange takes place between upper-class twit Jimmy Winter (Matthew Broderick) and Billie Bendix (Kelli O’Hara), a tough-talking bootlegger:

Jimmy: What’s your name?

Billie: Never you mind.

Jimmy: Hell-o, Never you mind.

It is at this precise moment, maybe five or seven minutes into the proceedings, that you know with utter certainty – and with an all too familiar sinking feeling – that it is going to be a very long night in the theater. How long? Rather than delight in the Gershwin songs that comprise the show’s score, you use them as markers. Okay, so one “I’ve Got to Be There” down, two reprises to go. One “Looking for a Boy” down, one reprise to go. One “Delishious” down, etc. etc.

Nice Work, tells the story of that dopey plutocrat Jimmy, who’s been married three times (or is it four) – “I’m young and good-looking. It turns out that’s enough” – and is about to take another walk down the aisle. When Jimmy mentions in passing that he has a never-occupied Long Island mansion, Billie suddenly gets an idea: That mansion would be a swell place to hide her hooch supply.

So just imagine the possibilities when Jimmy shows up at his Southampton spread with his new bride only to find Billie and her partners-in-crime Duke (Chris Sullivan) and Cookie (Michael McGrath). Cue mistaken identities, cue romance, cue the feds.

Actually, you don’t need much imagination. God knows the creative team – director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall and librettist Joe DiPietro – doesn’t give much evidence of one. This production – at best lazy, at worst cynical – seems to have been assembled from a kit, or perhaps with the aid of Madcap Musical software, and seems predicated on the belief that there is no gag so tired, no bit of stage business so hackneyed, no plot turn so grindingly predictable that it can’t be papered over by a Gershwin tune, however awkwardly shoehorned into the story.

S’wonderful to think so. Thus there is the lovely and criminally ill-used O’Hara singing “Someone to Watch Over Me” while holding a rifle. Never mind the staging that requires her to show her rear-end to the audience at the end of one number.

McGrath, who seems to be channeling Nathan Lane, is terrific as Billie’s put-upon accomplice. Stanley Wayne Mathis is indispensable as one of New York’s finest. Broderick, whose appeal, I’ll confess, generally evades me, is the evening’s big hero. His voice, though light, gets the job done, his timing is crackerjack. But it’s a lot of heavy lifting from one guy. Ira and George had the right idea: Let’s call the whole thing off. 

 


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