Apparently Rent never happened. Neither did Spring Awakening. Even Oklahoma! never took place.
Nice Work If You Can Get It floats us back to 1920s froth full of absurd plot twists, incongruous couplings, and bouncy/dreamy songs.
A trunk show inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, with a score by George and Ira Gershwin, it’s Broadway at its least adventurous, but aims for a fizz level that’ll turn “anything goes” situations into carefree entertainment.
Matthew Broderick plays a drunken playboy about to marry his fourth wife to please his mother, who wants him to earn some respectability before running the family business (though he’s such a mess that she won’t even tell him what that business is).
Broderick scores laughs and gamely dances up and down stairs, but he goes for a too-blasé approach that archly seems to comment on the material as he performs it.
Opposite him is Kelli O’Hara, who plays a bootlegger–dressed as a man–who has never been kissed, making for Broadway’s second drag king in a row. (See One Man, Two Guvnors for the other crime-related cross-dresser).
O’Hara is wonderfully unforced and does lovely work with the ballads (“Someone to Watch Over Me”) and the physical comedy as she evolves into her femininity.
But when she later has to pretend to be a Cockney maid–you heard me–her performance starts to lose some energy, with one incarnation too many.
The class comedy provides good turns for Jennifer Laura Thompson as a vacuous modern dance diva; Michael McGrath as a criminal pretending to be a butler; and Judy Kaye as an anti-boozin’ duchess who hilariously ends up smashed and swinging from the chandelier.
(No, not the same chandelier from Phantom of the Opera, for which Kaye won a Tony.)
And at the 11th hour, Estelle Parsons barrels in as Broderick’s mother to toss off some jokes about sex and politics and to announce a crazy new plot twist.
(You’ll never believe what the family business is. No, really, you won’t.)
Songs, shtick, romance, and politician bashing–a frolicsome old-style mix, zingily staged by Kathleen Marshall, and featuring a strong ensemble.
But when the champagne tastes flat–as with a strained joke or a badly shoehorned-in standard–one starts wondering if nostalgia is what it used to be.