SALT LAKE CITY — On April 24, 2012, Broadway’s newest Gershwin musical made its debut as Nice Work If You Can Get It. Over two years later, Work Light Productions has assembled a talented company to take the show on the road. With its third stop in its national tour being at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, Nice Work is a cockamamie evening of comedy, romance, and even a couple marriages.
Despite charming music and some strong performances from the principal characters, there is something, albeit a small something, missing from Nice Work If You Can Get It—heart. Technically, there wasn’t anything really wrong with the performances or the technical elements of the production. Still, in the execution of the show there is a life missing from the performers. The dances are fun but not infectious; love is present but not palpable. However, even without the heart, Nice Work delivers a genuinely fun and light-hearted evening that left me singing all the way home.
Nice Work follows in the footsteps of musicals of yesteryear, where an often ridiculous and superficial story provides the sparse connective tissue between musical numbers. This story, inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, follows bootlegger Billie Bendix (played by Mariah MacFarlane) and wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter (Alex Enterline) as they unexpectedly fall in love. The problem? Jimmy Winter is married . . . maybe twice—he isn’t sure. Scattered throughout this bumpy road to love are some of George Gershwin’s most timeless tunes, refitted to perpetuate this nonsensical premise.
After about ten minutes into the production it becomes clear that Nice Work is a constant stream of whimsy occasionally blossoming into a theatrical moment of genius. For instance, as Billie Bendix sings one of Gershwin’s most beloved ballads, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” her sidekick rushes on with a warning that the cops are on to them. He hands Billie a rifle, which she takes and nonchalantly loads as she sings those beautiful Gershwin melodies. It’s the first of several little gems that crop up throughout the performance.
Joe DiPietro’s book is full of charm and witty one-liners that are consistent with the kooky, anything-goes universe that Nice Work lives in. Kathleen Marshall’s original choreography, recreated by director/choreographer David Eggers is spunky and lively, but again in execution it is lacking the heart to really set it apart.
In Alex Enterline’s performance as Jimmy Winter, it is his singing voice that stands out. Those classic Gershwin tunes flow out of him effortlessly. While the songs are beautiful, Enterline leaves some to the imagination—specifically the intention behind those songs. As Jimmy and Billie finally admit their feelings for one another, they sings “’S Wonderful,” but it never feels as if Enterline’s Jimmy Winter really means those words he sings: “You’ve made my life so glamorous. You can’t blame me for feeling amorous.” At times it feels as if he were only halfway engaged.
Mariah MacFarlane’s performance as boyish and bold Billie Bendix feels more connected to her feelings, which were clear in the beautiful shaping and emotional nuances of her first song, the reprise of “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” However, it is supporting actors Reed Campbell and Aaron Fried, in their roles as Cookie and Duke Mahoney respectively, that truly stand our among their castmates. As Billie’s bootlegger sidekicks, Campbell and Fried keep the comedy flowing, lifting the play when it starts to sag. Fried’s Duke Mahoney also pulls on a few heartstrings as he reads his original poem “Blah, Blah, Blah,” to his new love, Jeannie. This charming combination of comedy and emotion is always welcome sight.
On the technical side of the production, Paul Toben’s lighting design smartly and subtlety used color and focus to compliment and support the action on the stage. Specifically memorable is the swanky design of Jimmy’s Ritzy Bedroom. The design is an important part of transforming the stage into a millionaire’s posh bedroom suite. Scenic designer Shoko Kambara is challenged in recreating Derek McLane’s original scenic design, primarily due to the lack of space in many of the touring houses around the country. However Kambara’s adapted scenic design is efficient and smartly uses the space at the Capitol.
Despite some small misgivings, Nice Work If You Can Get It is a tasty delight of musical fluff. Fun for the whole family, audiences will be singing and dancing on their way out of the theatre, wishing they lived in a bygone era where song and dance solved all your problems. The talented folks working on Nice Work, really have done . . . nice work.