THEATER REVIEW: ‘Nice Work’ doesn’t quite get it right

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” / Mac-Haydn Theatre

IN MAC-HAYDN’S “NICE Work If You Can Get It” there is an abundance of shapely legs attached to lovely-girl faces and torsos, along with some good jokes, and some familiar Gershwin tunes out of the George and Ira Gershwin songbook. It ought to add up to a sparkling evening.

Unfortunately the legs are mostly doing cliché moves and the tunes are kind of tossed off in period arrangements that can’t compete with the nuanced, loving way we have often heard them in more recent decades. Josh D. Smith’s orchestra sounded thin, especially compared to his spectacular work on “My Fair Lady.” His abrupt endings to songs really discourage the audience from showing its appreciation, and, gee whiz Josh, we love to applaud!

The plot is twenties-silly, and its connection to the tunes is awkward, awkward, awkward, which is just as it used to be. However, the second act does dish up some plot-twists that are really fun.

This kind of musical can work, but the constraints of summer-stock rehearsals may rob them of the attitude and crispness they require.

This twenties-inspired musical (plot adapted from old Guy Bolton and P.G Wodehouse material) opened on Broadway in 2013 starring Kelli O’Hara as Billie and Mathew Broderick as Jimmy. O’Hara was a sweet, lightly butch-flavored bootlegger, and Broderick was the feckless, rich-boy object of her affection.

At Mac-Haydn, Beatrice Crosbie plays Billie with a hint of Barbra Streisand and a nice helping of genuine softness. Crosbie can really sing, and she is pretty much able to get past the never-been-kissed aspect of the character, which must have irritated even 1920s sensibilities.

Jimmy is a thankless role, but Wayne Shuker lends it his good high baritone and gives the rest of the role the patience it requires.

The musical numbers that Billie and Jimmy share beg for real dancing. (A bit of Ginger and Fred please!) Instead we get heavy staging.

Almost single-handedly, the vibrant Andrew Jordan DeWitt as bootlegger Cookie McGee pulls the production to near-safety. He adds personhood to crispness and attitude, and he knows how to make the physical comedy zing.

After her brilliant run as Eliza in “My Fair Lady,” Eryn LeCroy is stuck with the role of the arm-waving, narcissistic “modern dancer” Eileen. (Of course real modern dancers did–and still do–scorn arm-waving as the boring language of classical ballet. They were and are much more enamored of the body’s midsection and its attraction to earth. But never mind.) LeCroy does pull off an extended costume joke with admirable skill.

A real “looker,” Sarah Kawalek is Guys and Dolls’ Adelaide reincarnated. Or, to be more historically correct, Adelaide is surely the offspring of chorus-girl beauties of the ’20s, including this character, Jeannie.

In a supporting role as Chief Berry, Daniel Klingenstein exhibits a few bars of nicely phrased, tantalizing tenor. More phrases from him in a future show would be nice work.

“Nice Work” does not pretend to be great art. If you crave sturdier fare, stay tuned at Mac-Haydn for Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” coming in July.

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