Monday, July 25, 2016

"Nice Work If You Can Get It" at Lyric Arts

A jukebox musical featuring the songs of the Gershwin brothers (composer George and lyracist Ira) set in the bootlegging days of the 1920s. Sounds fun, right? And it is that. It's not what I want from Broadway (I prefer new original musicals), but it's a perfect fit for regional and community theater. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed Lyric Arts' production of Nice Work If You Can Get more than I remember enjoying the Broadway tour that came through town a few years ago. It's chock full of wonderful tunes, the 20-person cast is really strong from the leads through the ensemble, the set is cool, and the large offstage band sounds great. There's nothing deep or overly meaningful about the show, but it's a great good time.

Like most jukebox musicals in which a story is conjured up to fit the already written songs, the plot of Nice Work If You Can Get It is pretty silly, and really just an excuse to get the songs in. But it's entertaining enough, sort of a combination of Anything Goes and Guys and Dolls. Famous (female) bootlegger Billie Bendix meets wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter in 1920s New York. When she hears that he has a large house on Long Island that no one ever uses, she decides to stash 400 bottles of hooch in the cellar. But the next day, Jimmy shows up with his new bride Eileen, "the finest interpreter of modern dance." They assume that Billie's partner-in-crime Cookie McGee is the butler, because he has dressed in the butler's clothes in case the police come by (OK, sure). The obligatory crazy hijinks ensue when Jimmy's girls, Eileen's senator/reverend/judge father, his temperance advocate sister, and the cops show up. And of course, admidst all this, Billie and Jimmy fall in love.*

Highlights of the show include:
Grant Hooyer's Jimmy with his girls
(photo courtesy of Lyric Arts)
  • The massive and versatile two-story set includes moveable staircases, rotating columns, chandeliers, and large pieces of furniture. It takes time to move those massive pieces around, but the ensemble members doing the moving make it fun and entertaining, mumbling to themselves and giving each other a hard time. The scene transitions are part of the show, rather than an interruption of it (scenic designer Mark Koski).
  • Josette Elstad's costumes have all the glitz and glamour of the '20s, no small feat with a cast this size and multiple costume changes.
  • The baby-faced Grant Hooyer is a charmer as the millionaire playboy Jimmy, and not a bad hoofer.
  • Lexi Duffy is fantastic as Billie, with a great stage presence and a voice perfectly suited to this era and style of music, almost like a young Rosemary Clooney.
  • The many funny and clever lines in the script are brought to life to great comedic effect by Robert Zalazar as Cookie, Taylor Bothun as the dimwitted Duke, Jackie O'Neil as Eileen, and Lauri Kraft as the temperance aunt, with an impressive drunken scene.
  • The cast energetically performs Penelope Freeh's fun and easy-feeling period choreography, with plenty of Charlestons.
  • It's not a short show, coming in at over two and a half hours with intermission, but director Adrian Lopez-Balbontin keeps things moving along at a good clip so that it doesn't feel that long.
  • Last but not least - the music! The score includes such beloved songs of the American Canon as "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "S'Wonderful," and of course, the title song. All are well-delivered by the cast and band (directed by Elise Beckel Santa).
bootleggers Duke, Billie, and Cookie (Taylor Bothun,
Lexi Duffy, and Robert Zalazar, photo courtesy of Lyric Arts)
Nice Work If You Can Get It is the final show of Lyric Arts' 2015-2016 season, and continues through August 7. If you're in the Northern metro, it's definitely worth a visit to Anoka to see this fun, entertaining, and well-done musical. And then check out the exciting things they have planned for 2016-2017, from the classic musical Anything Goes to the hilarious new(ish) musical Urinetown.

*Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about the touring production which stopped at the Ordway in 2014.