But with Crazy for You, My One and Only, and now Nice Work If You Can Get It, I mean, c'mon. We're talking about the frickin' Gershwins here. Is it ever a chore to listen to "Someone to Watch Over Me" or "But Not For Me"? Assuming they're well performed, that is, and well staged. Well, Nice Work If You Can Get It, we thankfully get both.
The show is essentially a reworked version of Oh, Kay!, a 1926 Gershwin musical with a book by "Princess" show collaborators Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse. The new book by Joe DiPietro, Tony winner for Memphis, is frequently clever and often uproarious, with lots of vivid characterization along the way. The show's plot reflects the typical "bootleg" show from the 1920s. A trio of bootleggers need to find a place to hide their hooch. They discover that a certain playboy never uses his Long Island mansion, so they hide their stash in the basement. Of course, the playboy shows up with his bride-to-be, and havoc ensues. Along the way, we have lots of mistaken identities and misunderstandings. DiPietro's book may have one or two too many minor characters for the audience to keep track of, but overall he balances all the songs and setups efficiently, if sometimes perfunctorily.
For the most part, director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall keeps the pace brisk, although the proceedings begin to sag toward the end of act one. If Marshall's work here is not quite as thrilling as her direction and dance for the current revival of Anything Goes, it is more than serviceable, and occasionally inspired. The show starts off with a sharp and high-spirited version of "Sweet and Lowdown," introducing our playboy character. Later in the show, we get a wonderful example of purposeful dance. In order to keep the authorities from discovering the hidden alcohol in the basement, the playboy character (who's in on the game at this point) and one of the bootleggers start an infectious dance that includes arm movements that push the crowd away from the basement door. The crowd picks up on the movement, becomes distracted by the catchy nature of the dance, and voilà, we have a showstopper that also serves a dramatic function.
Beyond the humorous book and the frequently fresh staging, the other key assets of this production lie in the cast of Broadway pros in both leading and supporting roles. Kelli O'Hara as our lady bootlegger ably demonstrates here why she is one of our go-to leading ladies. She handles the comedy, the ballads, and the dance numbers with remarkable facility. Would that the same could be said for her leading man, Matthew Broderick, who's looking a bit tired of late. Sure, he has a certain languorous charm that could easily be mistaken for apathy. (Or should that be a certain apathy that could be mistaken for languorous charm?) But overall, Broderick's performance here falls somewhere between his endearing nerdiness in The Producers and his phoned-in performance in the TV movie version of The Music Man. Sometimes he's bright and playful, but other times he looks like he'd rather be someplace else.
The supporting cast includes the wonderfully hammy Michael McGrath as one of the bootleggers and the delicious Judy Kaye as a zealous prohibitionist who loosens up considerably and hilariously upon finally sampling the "Demon Rum." Also on hand is the always delightful Jennifer Laura Thompson as the playboy's intended. Thompson's first-act number, "Delishious," is a sinfully enjoyable dose of pure confection.
So, Nice Work has quite a bit going for it, particularly with respect to the cast and those wonderful Gershwin songs. If it all adds up to something that's somewhat less than memorable, at least the show provides a good time while it lasts.