Saturday, 15 August 2015

Nice Work, Aug 15, 2015 ****1/2

Nice Work If You Can Get It
Music & Lyrics by George & Ira Gershwin; Book by Joe DiPietro
The Production Company
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, Aug 15 to 23, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2
Full review also published in Herald Sun online Mon 17 Aug, 2015 and thereafter in print. KH.

Blend a catalogue of inimitable, early 20th century Gershwin songs with a 21st century book, 1920s bootleggers, playboys and chorus girls and you get the effervescent, new musical, Nice Work if You Can Get It.

After over a decade of development, American writer, Joe DiPietro’s hybrid opened on Broadway in 2012 and won multiple Awards.

In a story set during 1927 in a playboy’s mansion on Long Island, DiPietro captures the flavour and characters of the Prohibition era but modernises them with saucy contemporary gags, bold women and ditzy men.

Nice Work is a hit that successfully straddles two centuries.

Rohan Browne balances sensuality with dim-wittedness as playboy, Jimmy Winter, who is blessed with wealth and good looks but not brains.

Jimmy is marrying the self-absorbed daughter of Senator Max Evergreen (John Wood), Eileen Evergreen (Christie Whelan Browne), ‘the finest interpreter of modern dance in the world’, and Whelan Browne milks this ridiculous character for comic potential.

Jimmy’s honeymoon goes off the rails when he meets tomboy bootlegger and fugitive from justice, Billie Bendix, played with charming naiveté and gangling awkwardness by Esther Hannaford.

Roger Hodgman’s production gives the performers their heads, never getting in the way of audacious characterisations by his cast of consummate musical and comic artists.

The Gershwins’ music is the star of the show with such unforgettable, singable hits as: Nice Work If You Can Get It, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, Someone To Watch Over Me, ‘S Wonderful, Fascinating Rhythm and even an orchestral version of Lady Be Good.

Under musical director, John Foreman, the slick band plays Gershwin with fierce commitment and plenty of brass and percussion.

With such a vivacious cast and chorus there are many highlights, but Whelan Browne’s sassy, narcissistic rendition of Delishious, sung in her bubble bath with a chorus line of bubble girls, is spectacularly funny.

Browne’s opening scene of Sweet And Lowdown with the Speakeasy chorus features some of Dana Jolly’s exuberant, provocative choreography that also sparkles in Fascinating Rhythm.

George Kapiniaris is a classic 20s clown as bootlegging gangster, Cookie McGee, and his duet with Gina Riley as prohibitionist-turned-boozer, Duchess Estonia Dulworth, is a comic gift.

With her fine voice, Hannaford brings new life to the evocative ballad, Someone To Watch Over Me, singing it with a shotgun in hand, and to Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, her trio with Browne and Tony Farrell as Police Chief Berry.

Blah, Blah, Blah is a delightfully eccentric love duet between Jensen Overend as the dopey Duke, and Monica Swayne as Jeannie, his equally dim girlfriend.

Nice Work is impudent, boisterous, beautifully sung and performed and allows us to hear Gershwin tunes in this new and cunningly wrought musical.

By Kate Herbert

Rohan Browne
Esther Hannaford
Christie Whelan-Browne

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