When a show is cobbled together from songs by a particular band or composer (such as We Will Rock You and Tomfoolery, which feature the songs of Queen and Tom Lehrer respectively), the audience can never be sure what they’re going to get in terms of the story. Will it be a weak plot that is merely an excuse to perform some good songs, or will it do justice to the music? I’m happy to report that Nice Work If You Can Get It is firmly in the latter category.
You can’t really go wrong when the music and lyrics are by George and Ira Gershwin. Fortunately, the book by Joe DiPietro, inspired by material by PG Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, is terrific too. Nice Work is set in 1927 and tells the story of a feckless playboy, Jimmy Winter (Rohan Browne), and an unsophisticated bootlegger, Billie Bendix (Esther Hannaford). Naturally, although they come from different backgrounds, the two fall in love and (spoiler) live happily ever after – but in the best traditions of musical comedy, the journey from their first meeting to their eventual marriage is full of obstacles.
Browne and Hannaford are perfectly cast as the two leads and sparkle in their scenes together. I particularly enjoyed their renditions of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (which I worried at the beginning of the song was going to be uncomfortably shoehorned into the scene, but which ended up being a triumph) and “’S Wonderful” (which had some lovely Astaire/Rogers-style choreography).
The supporting cast is strong. George Kapiniaris just about steals the whole show in his clever and hilarious turn as bootlegger and fake butler Cookie McGee, while Christie Whelan Browne gets to show off her considerable comic chops as Eileen Evergreen, the self-proclaimed “finest interpreter of modern dance in the world”. Her astonishing bathtub scene, featuring the song “Delishious”, is, well, delicious. Gina Riley as Estonia Dulworth, Duchess of Woodford, is clearly having the time of her life (and gets to literally swing from a chandelier!), and Nicki Wendt, although only in the last 10 minutes of the show, is magnificent as Millicent Winter.
The choreography by Dana Jolly is really superb, as is the playing by Orchestra Victoria, led by John Foreman. The orchestra is eye-catchingly positioned above the stage on a gently sloping ramp. It’s somehow very Art Deco.
I found Nice Work If You Can Get It to be a delightful surprise. Thank you very much to the Production Company for bringing it to Australia for the first time, and bravo to the cast and crew.