This is the third Gershwin anthology show in recent years. MY ONE AND ONLY (1983), with Tommy Tune and Twiggy was a moderate hit. Then CRAZY FOR YOU, based on GIRL CRAZY, ran for four years in the early nineties. Now we have NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, with a book by Joe DiPietro loosely based on the 1924 musical, LADY BE GOOD, which starred Gertrude Lawrence. We still have bootleggers and a playboy about to marry the wrong girl, but the book is much more coherent than the original. DiPietro has given us a delightful old-fashioned musical comedy with a lot of music and laughs. Director Katleen Marshall has wisely cast the show with strong comic performers. There are lots of leading roles, all deftly played. Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara are the name, "above the title" stars. On paper they seem like a mismatch. Broderick can carry a tune, but it isn't a great singing voice. He's not a born dancer, but he gamely gets through his dance numbers. What he can do is deliver comic lines in a winning, low-key manner. He has always been good at playing harmless naughty boys and that is what is required of him here. O'Hara is a competent actress, but a terrific singer. She's not a natural at comedy, but she's surrounded by so many great comic performers that it doesn't matter. Oddly enough, they work as a couple. They aren't Astaire and Rogers, but their dance numbers seem in character.
Michael McGrath as the gangster turned surly butler is a delight as is the great Judy Kaye as the prohibitionist who discovers the joy of booze. Chris Sullivan and Robyn Hurder make a wonderful comic couple as not-too-bright gangster Duke and dumb chorine with dreams of being queen of England. And Estelle Parsons make a grand second act appearance as Jimmy's mother.
This is what musical comedy is supposed to be -- great songs; a well constructed, truly funny book; superb comic performances; good singing and enjoyable dancing; lovely costumes; simple but effective sets and a great pit band. Too bad nobody around now can write a score anywhere near this good. Everyone who aspires to writing a musical should be required to see this show.
As expected, the near-capacity Tuesday night audience was comprised mostly of folks middle-aged and older (how many under-25s have even heard of George Gershwin?). They weren't as wildly enthusiastic as the younger audiences at some shows I have seen recently (or as despondent as the audience at ONCE), but they were obviously having a good time. Highly recommended.
And once again, I noted how shabby the Shubert's theaters are looking. The Imperial Theatre has housed some of the greatest musicals of the twentieth century. I spent much of my youth in the balcony of the Imperial. It deserves to look as grand as its place in the history of the musical.
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT. Imperial Theatre. June 19, 2012,