Thursday, August 02, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get It

If you're interested in watching a middle-aged woman bring the house down merely by glancing up at a chandelier, then Nice Work If You Can Get It is the show for you. The production received mixed reviews, largely because of the miscasting of Matthew Broderick as the romantic lead, but the slapstick-heavy luncheon scene that takes place in act II--and specifically the energy and dedication of Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath in it--is just one of many reasons to see the show, anyway.

It's sort of bizarre to think of "The Gershwins" and "jukebox musical" in the same flash, but Nice Work if You Can Get It really fits the bill. Which kind of makes sense, the more you chew on it. Lots of Gershwin shows--and those by their contemporaries--were pastiches in the first place. Songs that worked well in one show were often inserted into others; books were often secondary to a string of good songs, and thus utterly ridiculous; sight gags, slapstick, and quick, hilarious verbal exchanges glued the whole thing together. That Nice Work is being billed as a "new" Gershwin musical is perfectly apt, in this respect: the Gershwins, after all, were doing jukebox musicals before jukebox musicals had any idea what they were.

But then again, Nice Work would never have existed back in the Gershwin days--its nod to gender politics and its winking, self-referential humor are both just too contemporary. Its plot, while rooted firmly in the traditionally madcap, is just tight enough to resolve nicely, neatly, and without too many gaping holes. Some of its numbers are almost Berkeleyesque in their weird, carefully constructed randomness--the bathtub scene in the first act comes to mind--but, at the same time, winkingly conscious of their links to the past. So too is the whole show, which works nicely for the most part, if not all the time. Some of the numbers seem particularly shoehorned into specific scenes--and yes, I know this was the practice once, but it's not, now, so certain greatest-hits numbers (like "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and the act I closer, "Fascinating Rhythm") seem to have been inserted primarily because--well, because they're greatest hits, and thus they HAVE to be shoved in there, somewhere.

And Broderick? Whatever, he's certainly watchable, if sort of stuck in a kind of Leo Bloom persona. He doesn't quite cut it as the romantic lead, here, but then again, the character he's playing is something of a sniveling cypher, overly coddled by his endlessly disapproving but enormously wealthy mother, and fully aware of how a schmuck like himself is fine as long as he has access to his family's ludicrous amounts of cash. Still, paired with the absolutely luminous Kelli O'Hara--as well as a remarkably strong supporting cast of wacky, high-energy men and women--he really seems to be phoning it in sometimes. Then again, really, who cares? He looks like he's having fun. Who wouldn't?

Also, again, he's playing an opportunistic schmuck who treats women poorly, is morally and ethically weak, and doesn't much think about the rest of the world or how it works. How else to treat him in the modern era? Especially in a show cast with exceptionally strong female roles, directed and choreographed by Kathleen-effing-Marshall, and produced in part by a number of individual women and all-female producing teams? Broderick seems perfectly fine to stand aside and let 'em run the show. Nice work, indeed.

No comments: