There’s a game you can play at the new Gershwin songbook musical, Nice Work if You Can Get It. As you watch Matthew Broderick deliver yet another awkward, depressive and vocally thin performance, just superimpose other actors on his stiff, wincing figure. Reg Rogers? Sure, he would project the right level of screwball-horndog zest as skirt-chasing playboy Jimmy Winter. Josh Grisetti is funny as hell—and has singing chops. Maybe Christian Borle can get out of Peter and the Starcatcher. Is Norbert Leo Butz too old? Does it matter? Once your replacement reveries have faded, though, you’re back to grim reality: Somebody miscast Broderick again.
It’s a pity, because other elements surrounding him have real talent and charm. Chief among them, heaven-sent Kelli O’Hara, playing tomboy bootlegger Billie Bendix. O’Hara’s old-timey soprano slips perfectly into the wistful swing of the Gershwin tunes, those swoony blends of George’s wry melancholy and Ira’s pushy-rhyme flash. And there are tasty supporting turns by Jennifer Laura Thompson as Jimmy’s snooty, sexually withholding fiancée; Judy Kaye as an uptight Prohibitionist; and Michael McGrath as a wisecracking hooch smuggler. Joe DiPietro’s new book (spun from Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse’s material for the 1926 Gershwin vehicle Oh, Kay!) may strain for laughs in dopey repetitive banter, cheap wordplay and crass humor, but this is not meant to be sophisticated stuff, and DiPietro guides us fairly gracefully into each number.
In the end, those tunes and a few witty dances (director Kathleen Marshall also choreographs) aren’t enough to overcome the central hollowness. Hobbled by a tentative, unhappy-looking Broderick, this retro romp of Jazz Age silliness has all the fizz of a champagne bottle left uncorked for 86 years.—David Cote
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