By Isa Goldberg/Chief Theater Critic
Like it or not, the musical season on Broadway was all about revival, and I mean that in the religious sense. In “Ghosts” a young Wall Streeter is murdered but remains among the living. He is revived, in effect, so that he can solve his own murder and protect the loved one he will eventually have to leave behind. And, of course, the most significant revival, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was celebrated and celebrated again, in the return engagements of “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Even the modern day televangelist Jonas Nightingale (Raul Esparza) in “Leap of Faith,” was evoked, and brought to his knees as the flimflam man we may recall as Jim Bakker, or any number of revivalists, in a production that fell from grace on Broadway, just as abruptly as the anti-heroes on which it is based.
And to be sure, there was no lack of worship for the fascinating music of George and Ira Gershwin whose works were revived in Suzan-Lori Parks’
adaptation of “Porgy and Bess,” and whose songs create the flow in the new musical, “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
In fact, bringing back the Gershwin’s buoyant songs and setting them anachronistically between the 1920s and the 2010s, speaks to the very hope of a revival for our own society, an America founded on good faith reason, rather than on false ethics. As set in the prohibitionist 20’s “Nice Work” revisits an important era in American conservatism, and purports to express faith in a society that continues to evolve even if it is giddy and fickle. Indeed, the story by Joe DiPietro, based on the Gershwin’s “Oh Kay,” takes pride in the characters’ shenanigans. And as directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, the fast-paced farce progresses with relentless good cheer.
Matthew Broderick plays Jimmy Winter, a ne’er-do-well rich boy with a goody two shoes voice, a self-mocking throw back to his early roles, particularly Ferris Bueller. With no good intentions, but to play and to reap the rewards of his mother’s business, Broderick revels in his own self indulgent, and slightly naughty fun. His fiancé, on the other hand, Jennifer Laura Thompson‘s Eileen Evergreen is the elegantly reared modern dancer who brings to mind Isadora Duncan in her flowing robes. “She’s so brilliant, when she steps on stage, no one has any idea what she’s doing.” Such a quandary could never occur in this production which, blistering with abundant enthusiasm, leaves nary a moment for nuance. The humor is largely slapstick, the dancing non-stop, and the relationships, obvious from the get go. If anyone strives for more subtlety, it’s Kelli O’Hara as Billie Bendix, who does wonders with the Gershwin classic “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which she delivers, rifle in hand.
Together Broderick and O’Hara achieve the antic humor that keeps the story moving. They get ample support from the founder of a society of dry women, played with comic fervor by Judy Kaye. Tricked into imbibing, she winds up swinging from the chandeliers in a vertigo producing number. As gangster parading as butler, Michael McGrath is a clever foil. And in one of several culminating deus ex machina type scenes, a harsh, stone-faced Estelle Parsons appears as Jimmy’s Mama, the brains behind the business.
Everything in Derek McLane’s set is in sync with the overstated humor: the Pepto-Bismol pink bathroom with wallpaper of velvet bubbles, the Venus de Milo imitation, the grand staircase in mother’s opulent Long Island mansion, etc. etc. Similarly, Martin Pakiedinaz’s costumes from pastel chorus girls to pin striped vice squad officers is sociologically pertinent.
If only the story hadn’t dragged on and on with multiple endings, “Nice Work” would have made for a nicer evening, away from work.
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” is at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street. For tickets and the performance schedule call Telecharge at 212-239-6200, visit telecharge.com or go to the box office.
Photo: Joan Marcus