The Gershwins' Nice Work If You Can Get It reworks George and Ira's big hit of '26, Oh, Kay! — and on April 24 it returned to its original launching site, the Imperial, where "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Do, Do, Do" rang out anew.
Those two songs and our hero's name, Jimmy Winter, turn out to be all that's Oh, Kay! Everything else is Joe DiPietro. "Inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse," as the Playbill cover page points out, adaptor DiPietro — the two-Tonyed man from Memphis — let his imagination luxuriate over the Gershwin songbook until he found some irresistible evergreens suitable for transplanting in a storyline of cheery inconsequence and mindless merriment.
What he has come up with for Kelli O'Hara, musical theatre's darling of the day, is her first bootlegger role. He has thrown her some tough talk to toss off, and costumer Martin Pakledinaz has added a newsboy cap and pants — and voila! we have Billie Bendix, a hooch-running renegade of the Prohibition.
Enter woozily the aforementioned Jimmy Winter (Matthew Broderick to the rest of us), a tanked-up millionaire reeling down the aisle a fourth time. Billie/Kelli helps herself to his billfold and has her gang of two — Cookie McGee (Michael McGrath) and Duke Mahoney (Chris Sullivan) — stash their booze on his Long Island estate, where they secure work as domestics to keep an eye on their ill-gotten goods. Both of Billie's hoods square off with improbable damsels — Cookie with a booze-busting duchess (Judy Kaye), Duke with a ditzy flapper (Robyn Hurder). The Gail Patrick role of Jimmy's disposable fiancée is an Eileen Evergreen (Jennifer Laura Thompson), daughter of a stuffy senator (Terry Beaver). Two scenes from the end, Jimmy's take-charge mother (Estelle Parsons) arrives on the scene to sort out all of the above.
Everybody has a song to sing, it seems, so Gershwin standards are strung like pearls throughout the proceedings — "Sweet and Lowdown," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "Do It Again," "'S Wonderful," "Fascinating Rhythm," "Lady Be Good," "But Not for Me," "By Strauss," "I've Got a Crush on You," "They All Laughed," "Blah, Blah, Blah."
Energetic choreography and direction from Kathleen Marshall animate these classic ditties, often in ways not done before. O'Hara velvetizes the lilting "Someone to Watch Over Me" while comfortably cradling a rifle, for example.
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At the party at the Marriott following the musical's opening, I reminded Marshall what happens to her characters when they get airborne: They get Tony-nominated, a la the swashbuckling Adam Godley of Anything Goes. Okay, it's not a big trend yet, but she does have a soused-silly Judy Kaye swinging on a chandelier. "That was Joe DiPietro," she countered. "It was in the script: 'She swings from the chandelier.' We just had to figure out a way for us to get her there, that's all.
"This is my favorite kind of thing to do — a romantic screwball comedy. What's better? And what I love about this show is — I was thinking about this tonight — the fact that it starts with a party and it ends with a party. It's such a beautiful way to send people out into the night, on that kind of wave of joy."
After Anything Goes, this show seconds her affection for Golden Age shows. "I'm an old movie buff and an old music buff. Sometimes, I feel I was born in the wrong era, but I get to do a 21st-century Gershwin musical, and that's kinda great."
For her next project, she'll make it all the way up to the '50s. "I'm directing and choreographing the musical version of the cult movie, 'Diner.' Barry Levinson, who wrote and directed the film, is doing the book, and Sheryl Crow is writing the songs. We go to San Francisco in the fall and come in, hopefully, next spring."
Broderick's table was packed with celebrity pals, and when one told him he was "on fire tonight," he nodded and confessed, "I was very good." It has been a while since his last song-and-dance, The Producers, but he didn't mind getting into the harness again. "It was difficult, but it was also great fun. I worked very hard." For all the great songs she has to sing, O'Hara's favorite moment is a silent one: "Before I sit on the stage and sing that last duet, I get to stand for 30 seconds in the orchestra pit and just listen to that beautiful music — that's my favorite part."
Nice Work If You Can Get It Opens On Broadway; Red Carpet Arrivals, Curtain Call and Cast Party
Rumors that she will next be doing The King and I at Lincoln Center are, she said, just that: rumors — "but, if the schedule works out, of course I would love to do it." And, yes, she has heard Evita's Michael Cerveris, a Brynner ringer if ever there was one, could grab the brass crown. "We'll see. I trust Bartlett Sher. He found Paolo Szot for South Pacific."
A rather robust 84, Parsons was enjoying her bonbon-at-the-end positioning (two scenes) and her billing (third). "George S. Kaufman once wrote, 'If you can do it, put a character in near the end of the play to give it a bump-up,' so that's my job and it works." Nice work if you can get it, Estelle.
McGrath, the Tony-nominated Patsy of Spamalot, continues his second-banana antics like a latter-day Allen Jenkins-Frank McHugh. "I may not know the names, but I recognize all those guys. He's a wise-guy Everyman, which I love playing, and I love to be able to draw from all those old characters from all those old movies and bring them to life on the stage because they're a blast, a real blast."
Jennifer Laura Thompson as the expendable fiancée is allotted two wonderfully ridiculous moments: singing "Delishious" in her bath while a chorus line pops up out of the suds and climbs out of the tub, and maneuvering a wedding dress with an endless train ("I have a lot of backstage support — two people who are feeding it forward. It was 50 feet initially, and then they added six yards.").
First-nighters ranged, bizarrely, from former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton to French actor Jean Reno, both with their respective spouses, businessman Marc Mezvinsky and Polish model Zofia Borucka.
In between: Mrs. Broderick & Son (Sarah Jessica Parker and James Wilke Broderick), a pride of Tony winners (John Benjamin Hickey, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Lea Salonga and James Naughton), Jennifer Westfeldt and Jon Hamm, Lemon Sky's Keith Nobbs, playwrights Kenneth Lonergan and Alfred Uhry, producer-comedienne Jamie de Roy and actor Tony Lo Bianco (both graying nicely), Shawn Elliott (fresh from producing and acting in Teresa's Ecstasy at the Cherry Lane), Concetta Tomei, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo's Arian Moayed and director Moises Kaufman, crooning icon Tony Bennett (who has doubtlessly done the entire score at one time or another), Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli (likewise thoroughly familiar with the music), Erin Dilly and Stephen R. Buntrock, Susan Sullivan, Olivier-winning director and Tony-winning choreographer Rob Ashford (Marshall's former assistant), David Hyde Pierce, Carol Kane and mom, Victor Garber (whose Ben Affleck-directed flick, "Argo," comes out in the fall), Roger Rees and Rick Elice (seeing shows for a while instead of making them), Didi Conn and David Shire (he's composing a new musical for director Gordon Edelstein up at Long Wharf), Andy Cohen, "Smash" songsmiths Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Memphis' Tony-winning composer David Bryan, and Rachel York (soon Dorothy to Megan Hilty's Lorelei in the Encores! Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and, come August, Reno Sweeney for Marshall's Anything Goes road company).
Rob Marshall, big brother to the show's director-choreographer, was also in attendance with his producer/partner, John DeLuca. It wasn't entirely a family obligation that brought them there, either. "We're working on a film for the fall called 'The Thin Man' starring Johnny Depp," he said. "We're starting that process now of finding that fantastic Nora Charles for him. And, yes, there will be music. I think I'm going to work from some of the material from the '30s, like this beautiful music we're hearing tonight. I think I'm going to start shopping tonight . . ."
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