Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ogunquit Playhouse Presents "Nice Work If You Can Get It" - Summer Stock Does Not Get Any Better Than This!

Drawn along at breakneck speed by the troika of Gershwin, gunslingers and bathtub gin, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is a rollicking romp through Prohibition -  populated by the bootleggers who profited by it.  Throw in a few leggy Broadway chorus girls, a playboy and his Long Island mansion, a rigid temperance maven, a reluctant butler, a vice squad, a crooning Police Chief and you have a cocktail recipe for an evening of intoxicating theater.  The Broadway version of this show featured Mathew Broderick, Kelli O'Hara, and Judy Kay.  It garnered multiple Tony Awards, and was a total delight when I saw the show.  This current Ogunquit Playhouse production is no less delightful, anchored by the chemistry between Joey Serge as Jimmy Winter and Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix.

Director Larry Raben has assembled a flawless cast that bubble with the effervescence of a magnum of Veuve Clicquot.  Choreographer Peggy Hickey puts the dancers through their paces that include classic tap, Charleston, Can-Can and countless other terpsichorean styles.

My only complaint that kept this evening of theater from being perfect was the fact that from the opening notes of the Overture, the amplification of the orchestra was so loud that it was uncomfortable and almost painful.  The score features many familiar Gershwin tunes, and several that are more obscure.  Billie and Jimmy team up for a wonderful duet of the title song.  Sally Struthers, as Duchess  Estonia Dulworth, had a great deal of fun with "Demon Rum."  Billie's rendition of "Someone To Watch Over Me" was hilarious, for Ms. LaVergne sang the song while toting a shotgun, making me think of Annie Oakley.  In fact, Amanda's voice is a blend of the sweetness of Julie Andrews with the vocal fire power of Ethel Merman. Her singing and acting are extraordinarily entertaining, and are among the strongest parts of this production.  Ms. LaVergne and Mr. Sorge team up again vocally for a refreshing version of "'S Wonderful" and a wonderful "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off."

Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix
Joey Sorge as Jimmy Winter
"Nice Work If You Can Get It"
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through August 15

The book by Joe Pietro is full of clever repartee, sight gags, and quirky characters. The set by Shoko Kambara takes us from a fishing shack to the sumptuous Long Island mansion that Jimmy inhabits when he is not clubbing in Manhattan. Costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are perfectly designed to evoke the ethos of the Prohibition and Flapper era and to reflect that fun-loving nature of this story. Lighting by Richard Latta is very effective, as is the Sound Design of Kevin Heard. Music Direction is by Charlie Reuter.

In addition to the performers I have already singled out, I must mention to following:

  • James Beaman as Cookie McGee almost steals the show.  He is that funny. As part of the gang of bootleggers, he and Billie and Duke figure out that storing their 400 cases of gin in Jimmy Winter's cavernous basement might keep them safe from the cops that are breathing down their necks.  Things get complicated, and Cookie has to pretend to be the new butler. His shenanigans had me roaring with laughter in each scene that he dominates.
  • Breighanna Minnema plays Eileen, the modern dancer who is scheduled to become Jimmy's fourth wife.  As she luxuriates for hours in the bath tub, she sings "Delishious."  It turns into a production number worthy of the Ziegfeld Follies.
  • Aaron Fried is Duke, who falls in love with the dancer Jeannie Muldoon (Elyse Collier).  Their duet, "Blah, Blah, Blah," is a highlight.
  • Valton Jackson is wonderful as Chief Berry.  On two occasions, he breaks out of character and breaks into song.  Those are special moments in the show.
  • Valerie Harper makes a late appearance as Jimmy's mother.  A crucial turning point in the plot involves her revealing the true source of her wealth and her true identity.  Ms. Harper was greeted enthusiastically by the audience that clearly knew of her struggle with a debilitating brain tumor.  What a delight and miracle to see her back on stage.  She was recently added to the cast, and on opening night it was clear that she is still struggling to master all of her lines.  But her fellow cast members were there to see her through the few rough moments and the audience gave her credit for her stalwart never-give-up spirit..
  • Steve Brady played to officious Senator/Judge/Reverend with great panache, looking every bit as if he had walked off the set of "To Kill A Mockingbird" as Atticus Finch.
Other members of this uniformly excellent ensemble are Madison Mitchell, Ahlea Potts, Heather Stinson, Kristina Miller, Noelle Marion, Willie Dee, Matthew J. Kilgore, Mathew J. Vargo, Anrew Metzgar and Kent Zimmerman.

Ogunquit audiences seem to have a special affection for Sally Struthers,as she returns to the coast of Maine each summer to delight them. In this show, she gave them a special moment to celebrate her spirit of fun and mad cap humor.  Without spoiling a crucial plot point, let me just say that she makes the best use of a chandelier on stage since "Phantom of the Opera."

Sally Struthers as Duchess Estonia Dulworth
"Nice Work If You Can Get It"

Ogunquit Playhouse
Through August 15

This show will run through August 15.  Tickets are going fast, so I suggest you secure yours ASAP.  Seeing excellent Summer Stock in Ogunquit is indeed nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try!



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