'Nice Work If You Can Get

The newly manufactured 1920s-set musical "Nice Work if You Can Get It" crams vintage Gershwin songs into a bubbly crowdpleaser, enchantingly rendered by thesps Kelli O'Hara, Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye.

The newly manufactured 1920s-set musical “Nice Work if You Can Get It” crams vintage Gershwin songs into a bubbly crowdpleaser, enchantingly rendered by thesps Kelli O’Hara, Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye. Mix in staging and choreography by Kathleen Marshall (“Anything Goes”) and a cheerfully screwball if somewhat creaky new book by Joe DiPietro, and you’ve got what might be termed a good new old-fashioned musical. If only its likable, hard-working leading man — a miscast Matthew Broderick — didn’t seem to be painfully concentrating on his next step, all night long.

DiPietro (“Memphis”) has borrowed plot and characters from the 1926 musical “Oh, Kay!” for this Prohibition-era tale of a dissipated playboy (Broderick) who falls for a distaff bootlegger (O’Hara), who illicitly commandeers his Long Island mansion to store her illegal hooch. Comic misunderstandings ensue and eventually resolve into four or five sets of happy lovers, plus lots of dancing.

Twenty-one Gershwin tunes are shoehorned in; many sparkle, some don’t quite fit, and a couple of long-lost tunes don’t deserve disinterment. “Nice Work” is also carpeted with underscoring pulled from George’s symphonic catalog, so it’s wall-to-wall Gershwin for aficionados, compiled by an uncredited music expert who clearly knows his or her stuff.

Cast is, for the most part, topnotch. O’Hara (“South Pacific”) has long displayed one of the best singing voices currently on the boards, but nothing thus far has shown off her aptitude for clowning. Her tomboyish bootlegger here is not only a first-class mug but a first-class mugger, turning pratfalls with ease.

Broderick proved perfectly capable in his last musical comedy, starring opposite Nathan Lane in “The Producers.” Here, though, he is given dance number after dance number, and while he’s able to get his legs working, more or less, his upper body is so distressingly rigid that he dances like he’s strapped into a neck brace. When “Nice Work” gets frothy, as it frequently does, he kicks up his heels in a manner that leaves one feeling sorry for the actor, which continually lets the helium out of the figurative balloon.

The supporting clowns provide plenty of joy. McGrath (“Spamalot”), an always reliable musical comedian, outdoes himself in the sort of role that used to be written for Bert Lahr. The equally accomplished Judy Kaye (“The Phantom of the Opera”) has a harder time of it; her character — Duchess Estonia Fulworth, a Prohibitionist harpy with a tender side — is clumsily drawn, and by the second act, the author has her trilling madly and literally swinging from a chandelier. Still, Kaye pulls it off admirably.

Also on hand are Jennifer Laura Thompson (“Urinetown”), forced to give an evening-long Madeline Kahn impersonation; Robyn Hurder, as a friendly flapper; and Stanley Wayne Mathis as a G-man searching for the booze. Stepping in for the final 20 minutes playing Broderick’s mother, is Estelle Parsons. This being flimsy musical comedy, she brings two major plot surprises.

Leading man aside, director-choreographer Marshall keeps “Nice Work” humming. Her dances are enjoyable, but never quite build in the manner of her other current Broadway outing, “Anything Goes” (in which she had a star, Sutton Foster, who could outdance the chorus kids). Marshall’s design team from that musical — Derek McLane (sets) and Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) — here provide a suitably ritzy physical production that well captures the humor of the occasion.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Imperial; 1,439 seats; $136.50 top

Production

A Scott Landis, Roger Berlind, Sonia Friedman Prods., Roy Furman, Standing CO Vation, Candy Spelling, Freddy DeMann, Ronald Frankel, Harold Newman, Jon B. Platt, Raise the Roof 8, Takonkiet Viravan, William Berlind/Ed Burke, Carole L. Haber/Susan Carusi, Buddy and Barbara Freitag/Sanford Robertson, Jim Herbert/Under the Wire, Emanuel Azenberg, Shubert Organization presentation of a musical in two acts with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, book by Joe DiPietro based on material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Musical direction, Tom Murray.

Creative

Sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Martin Pakledinaz; lighting, Peter Kaczorowski; sound, Brian Ronan; hair and wig, Paul Huntley; orchestrations, Bill Elliott; musical supervision, David Chase; production stage manager, Bonnie L. Becker. Opened April 24, 2012. Reviewed April 20. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast

Jimmy Winter - Matthew Broderick
Billie Bendix - Kelli O'Hara
Duke Mahoney - Chris Sullivan
Cookie McGee - Michael McGrath
Jeannie Muldoon - Robyn Hurder
Chief Berry - Stanley Wayne Mathis
Senator Max Evergreen - Terry Beaver
Duchess Estonia Dulworth - Judy Kaye
Eileen Evergreen - Jennifer Laura Thompson
Millicent Winter - Estelle Parsons
With: Cameron Adams, Clyde Alves, Kimberly Faure, Robert Hartwell, Stephanie Martignetti, Barrett Martin, Adam Perry, Jeffrey Schecter, Joey Sorge, Samantha Sturm, Kristen Beth Williams, Candice Marie Woods.

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