BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Marginally based upon previous Broadway shows with scores by George and Ira Gershwin, “My One and Only” (1983) and “Crazy for You” (1992) were new musicals that successfully repackaged the team’s vintage songs with fresh scripts and dance-driven productions.
The latest such attraction to exploit the Gershwin catalog is “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” which opened on Tuesday at the Imperial Theater: ‘S wonderful music, ‘s marvelous time and ‘s gonna be tough to nab tickets soon for this smart, altogether lovely reincarnation of a 1920s musical comedy.
An eternally boyish Matthew Broderick shines at the top of his amiable game in a perfectly-fitting role as a mildly dumb and often sweetly intoxicated millionaire. Kelli O’Hara glows as a gamine bootlegger who secretly stows her hooch in the cellar of his ritzy Long Island villa.
Together they delightfully gambol through standards such as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and the title number while a brilliant featured company makes song-and-dance whoopee under director Kathleen Marshall’s ever-inventive guidance.
Writer Joe DiPietro wittily crafts “Nice Work If You Can Get It” out of story fragments from “Oh, Kay!” (1926) plus songs drawn from over a dozen other Gershwin works of the 1920s and ‘30s. Passages from the composer’s instrumental pieces deftly and humorously punctuate the action, as when Broderick and O’Hara share their first kiss and suddenly a splash of “Rhapsody in Blue” swells out of the orchestra pit.
Spiked with a plenitude of hearty laughs, DiPietro’s busy but nimble book involves such classic figures as the playboy’s self-absorbed fiancée (Jennifer Laura Thompson), a hoodlum who masquerades as a butler (Michael McGrath), a doughty temperance leader who giddily succumbs to demon rum (Judy Kaye), a hapless police chief (Stanley Wayne Mathis), a gold-digging chorine (Robyn Hurder) who thinks a mug named Duke (Chris Sullivan) is royalty and a puritanical Senator with a past (Terry Beaver).
None other than Estelle Parsons grandly makes a very late entrance as the deus ex machina who solves the hero’s romantic complications.
The amusing story goes down very easily, especially when rendered so expertly by everyone concerned. Musical and comedy highlights are too numerous to mention but a slapstick sequence in a dining room and a rousing “I’ve Got to Be There” dance for Broderick with a bevy of tootsies in lingerie (“Lindbergh me, ladies!”) are among the standouts. A Gershwin rarity that shimmers amid their more familiar songs is a delicate “Will You Remember Me?” duet for Broderick and O’Hara.
The two stars align brightly, with Broderick’s trademark pixilated manner contrasting very nicely with O’Hara’s brisk yet adorable ways. Loping around in Vanderbilt livery as the bogus butler, McGrath’s caustic exchanges with Kaye’s perfectly Margaret Dumont-esque dowager often strike comical gold.
Marshall, who also creates the lively vo-de-o-do choreography, wisely avoids any business that might put a campy spin on the proceedings. Further, for all of the show’s exuberance, it never seems like the performers are sweating bullets to sell the audience on what they are doing, and such consummate easiness summons up the airy quality that characterized musicals of the 1920s.
Beautiful and/or slyly humorous period costumes by Martin Pakledinaz that move well with the dancing, a procession of handsomely old-fashioned settings by Derek McLane and refulgent lighting by Peter Kaczorowski beguile the eye, while Bill Elliott’s sparkling orchestrations sound mighty authentic on the ear. Anybody who remains crushed on old-school musicals surely will revel in such joyful entertainment.
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” continues at the Imperial Theater, 249 W. 45th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.niceworkonbroadway.com.