By PAM HARBAUGH
Although the Henegar’s musical comedy starts with a big production number, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” keeps unfolding as something even bigger, into a toe-tapping, wanna sing-a-long (but don’t please), mile a minute show that is, simply put — FUN.
This musical has all the right ingredients — Joe DiPietro’s happy go lucky book, George Gershwin’s iconic tunes, endearing characters and the opportunity for some fantastic choreography. Mr. DiPietro credits legendary team of Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse as the muses who sat on his shoulder while creating the story. Indeed, “Nice Work” is very much a reworking of the duo’s musical “Oh, Kay!” Mr. DiPietro has a sweet little nod to that older work in a fun vaudeville style scene where the word “okay” is bandied about.
After a few iterations beginning in 2001 at the venerable Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, the show finally emerged as “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and opened on Broadway in 2012. The production drew huge names — director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall and stars Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara. It ran for more than a year and won Mr. DiPietro a Drama Desk Award. (Although it had been nominated for quite a few Tony Awards, those ended going to the blockbuster musical “Once.”)
The show at the Henegar is the Florida premiere production of “Nice Work.” So given this storied background to the musical, the Henegar’s production, directed handsomely by newcomer Ben Earman, delivers big on every front.
In theater criticism parlance, the story is known as a “frothy confection” which infers a lack of substance — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Set during Prohibition, it centers on carefree playboy Jimmy Winter who is about to get married for the fourth time. He takes his fiancee, a modern dance artist, Eileen Evergreen, to his Long Island mansion where they are to be wed. Upon arriving there, he discovers that a big time bootlegger is using the basement to store gin. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Billie Bendix, a hard working young woman in the bootlegging business.
Hank Rion, the Henegar’s artistic director, is a singing and dancing dream as Jimmy Winter. Mr. Rion brings such heart and sweetness to this demanding role it’s quite impossible not to feel utterly endeared to his character. Opposite him is Christine Brandt who charms in her winning performance as Billie Bendix. Charged with wonderful stage chemistry, the two are sensational in “S’Wonderful” in which they sing and dance all over the stage.
There’s so much romance in this show, love blossoms from one end of the story to the next. Especially endearing are Kirstin Williams and Dillon Giles as a snappy little flapper and a befuddled bootlegger who fall in love. Their big number, “Do It Again” is so adorable you want to put it in your pocket and take it home.
Mary Carson Wouters is hysterical as Eileen Evergreen, a modern dancer thoroughly in love with herself. I dare you not to laugh out loud in the bubbly bathtub number when she holds mirrors in each hand and even with her toes as she sings how “Delishious” she is. Shane Frampton takes a giddy turn as the uptight Duchess of Woodford who drinks gin instead of lemonade and swings on a chandelier. Opposite Ms. Frampton is Dion Khan, a hoot as Cookie, a bootlegger turned begrudging butler.
And really…Joan Taddie…all she had to do to get a round of applause was walk on stage. She is perfectly cast as Jimmy Winter’s mother, Millicent, a lady with a past that sews up all the loose ends.
And oh my the dancing. Choreographer Kim Cole hits it out of the park with inventive, fun, and challenging dance that gets people flipping, tapping up and down stairs, tapping with knuckles on desk tops, jumping and tugging. Whew! And Jordan Evans keeps the show clipping along as he leads a fantastic 12-member orchestra. And music director Kaimi Lucker brings out such wonderful voices.
Scenic designer Austin Butler creates a wealth of art-deco inspired settings, working side by side with costume designer Vanessa A. Glenn who has turned out an army of well designed looks. Joshua Huss’ elaborate lighting design accentuates both that “frothy confection” motif (just look at the “bubbles” he paints with light on the stage in the bathtub number) and warms the quiet, more intimate moments. And Thom Restivo is flawless in his role of sound designer.
Big shout out here to the show’s running crew — Michelle Dingman, Shara Kyles, Rob Landers, Joey Paris and stage manager Erin Frank. Most of them have starred in many shows at the Henegar, but still have the heart to slip into these essential backstage roles.
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” may be set in the 1920s and have music and a storyline that’s from the same era, but this musical has a freshness to it that you’ll want to see. Make plans now.
Because of my professional relationship with the Henegar, I am not calling this post a “review,” but instead, a “commentary.” Thank you, Pam Harbaugh.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Nice Work If You Can Get It” runs through March 20 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $16 to $26. Call 321-723-8698, visit Henegar.org or just click onto the ad on the right side of this page.