Nice Work If You Can Get It, currently showing at the Imperial Theatre, gives the Gershwin’s the Juke Box treatment. Ponder the casting of a pre-jukebox music catalog in a post-jukebox world and you begin to get at the anachronistic frivolity this piece of light theatrical fare strives for. Bootleggers and flappers cavort about a ritzy long island estate, donning disguises and falling in and out of love, but can they elicit more than a passing fancy from the audience?
This mythic body of musical work is brought to life by a luscious series of sets, care of Derek McLane, and vibrant costumes from Martin Pakledinaz, if only they where inhabited by more able bodies. The biggest disappointment here is Mr. Broderick who either gets too inside the role of ineffectual “good-looking and rich” Jimmy Winter, or is simple too ineffectual good looking and rich himself to care about delivering a compelling performance. Kelli O’Harra’s Billie Bendix does her best to rescue him from his onstage dilemmas and his lackluster perfomance, doing so rather adeptly all the while backwards and in heels. But the real stand-outs are the supporting cast who steal every scene they’re given. Judy Kaye as the teetotaling Duches Estonia Dulworth holds nothing back in her abstinence and her excesses. Michael McGrath’s Laurel and Hardy-ish Cookie McGee doing his best to hide his thuggish nature while masquerading as the butler provides ample laughs. Robyn Hurder’s Jeannie Muldoom ably fills the role, and wardrobe, of a lusty chorus girl attempting to seduce the ersatz “Duke of England” Chris Sullivan, his stocky and simple Duke Mahoney is a love-sick variation on Lenny from Of Mice and Men.
One can imagine the idle rich of the roaring 20’s bemoaning the inability to get good help but with this staff even the most hapless one-percenter could throw a decently gin-soaked soirée. Broderick should soar but like any other trust-afarian he let’s everyone else do all the work, while he takes the night off. There’s the rub, the show is decent, it’s “Nice”, but it’s no knock-out. Clever but not clever enough. For an era when songs actually contained rich narratives the link between the lyrics and plot is uneven. In fact some numbers work best when they’re plopped onto the stage with a wink a a nod to their irrelevance to the plot.
The Gershwin catalog is Nice Work indeed and If You Can Get It into a better musical let us know, until then Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.