The dissolute playboy played by Matthew Broderick in Nice Work If You Can Get It is frequently inebriated, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be in a similar state to enjoy the slight charms of this “new” Gershwin musical. Like such predecessors as My One and Only and Crazy for You, this show incorporates numbers from the formidable Gershwin songbook into a ramshackle book, in this case written by Joe DiPietro and “inspired by,” or more accurately, cribbed by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse.
The silly, Prohibition-era storyline revolves around the comic mayhem that ensues when Jimmy Winter (Broderick), about to embark on his fourth marriage, meets Billie Bendix (Kelli O’Hara), one of a trio of bootleggers who hatch a plan to hide their hooch in Jimmy’s Long Island mansion. Unbeknownst to them, that’s where the nuptials are going to take place, so they’re forced to don disguises, with Billie’s partner Cookie (Michael McGrath) donning the role of Jimmy’s new butler.
But there’s little point in recounting the plot, since it basically serves as an excuse to trot out nearly two dozen songs by George and Ira, ranging from the oh-so-familiar (“Fascinating Rhythm,” “Lady Be Good,” “But Not for Me,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You”) to such relatively little known gems as “Treat Me Rough” and “Delishious.” For instance, when Jimmy and Billie are forced to pretend to be warring newlyweds—don’t ask—they naturally sing, what else, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
At one point in the proceedings Jimmy, when asked if he’s street smart, replies, “No, just rich and good looking. Turns out that’s enough.” That could well sum up the ethos of the show, which relies on charm and good humor to compensate for its lack of substance, even of the comedic variety.
Still, there’s fun to be had. Ironically, it comes less from the star power of Broderick and O’Hara than the supporting players. Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye essentially steal the show with their pitch-perfect comic timing and delivery of even the hoariest lines, with the latter scoring the biggest audience response while singing “Looking for a Boy” while giddily hanging from a chandelier. Chris Sullivan is a hoot as the third bootlegger, a rough and tumble type who pretends to be a British duke in order to woo a gold-digging floozy (an amusing Robyn Hurder). And though she doesn’t make an appearance until the last few minutes, Estelle Parsons delivers an impeccable comic turn as Jimmy’s disapproving mother.
Kathleen Marshall has staged the proceedings in properly fizzy fashion, but her choreography is surprisingly unimaginative, especially considering her outstanding work in last season’s similarly frothy Anything Goes. But the show looks damn good, thanks to Derek McLane’s elaborate sets and especially Martin Pakledinaz’ elegant costumes.
Broderick’s performance, reminiscent of Edward Everett Horton in its befuddled amiability, is amusing but toothless--the actor seems to have totally lost the sharp comic edge he once displayed as Ferris Bueller. He has a pleasant enough voice, but can’t really put the numbers over, and the effort he projects while dancing is wince inducing. Indeed, his finest moment is when he’s being carried about by a line of chorus girls. O’Hara is fetching as ever, and gorgeously sings such songs as “Someone to Watch Over Me,” but she too lacks true comedic spark.
Ultimately, the show’s title proves all too accurate, at least for everyone creatively involved. There’s nothing at all distinguished about it, but thanks to Gershwin’s still effervescent music it still manages to provide diverting entertainment that should well please the matinee ladies.
Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St. 212-239-6200. www.Telecharge.com.
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