“Nice Work if You Can Get It”

Ben Miles

George and Ira Gershwin are the brothers who blessed us with some of the most memorable music of the 20th century. Now onstage at Long Beach’s Musical Theatre West is a show that celebrates the songs of this sibling duo, and takes its title from one of the Gershwins’ best known collaborations, “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” which the Gershwin bros originally wrote for the Fred Astaire movie, “A Damsel in Distress”  (music by George; lyrics by Ira). 

The slapstick conceit, conceived by Joe DiPietro — based on a story notion by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse — is set in the America’s Prohibition era and is a frothy, lighthearted farce that puts the simple plot line firmly in service of the Gershwin compositions. 

Under the impressively energetic direction of Larry Raben — with pulsating musical direction of a full-bodied orchestra  by Dennis Castellano (with two grand pianos to give appropriate muscle to the Gershwin music) and the crackling choreography of Broadway veteran Peggy Hickey — this musical becomes a spectacle that also proves to be a spectacular showcase for the cast of players and ensemble dancers. 

In nearly three hours time, in two acts with nearly two dozen song and dance routines (with a fifteen-minute intermission), we in the audience are dazzled by the Gershwin songbook with such standards as “‘S Wonderful,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” 

And though Gershwin tunes can be appreciated just for the wordplay and catchy melodies inherent in them, the top-notch performances on display make the comedy and music come alive with crackerjack timing and stunning vocal capabilities. 

Eric Sciotto is perfectly cast as the handsome and tuneful conman Jimmy Winter, as is Kelly Dorney as the tomboyish Billie Bendix; both performers demonstrate, in addition to superb comedic instincts, sterling vocal abilities. The “Someone To Watch Over Me” duet they do is a marvelous musical number to see and hear. As Cookie McGee Jason Graae’s comedic expressions exude a hilarious naturalness that might serve as a template of inspiration for other musical comedy aspirants. Graae plays Cookie as a wry wise guy and his vocal chops are in evidence in his solo reprise of “Sweet and Lowdown.”

The entire cast deserves accolades, including Matt Merchant as the dense Duke Mahoney; Melina Kalomas in her parody performance of so-called modern dancer Eileen Evergreen; Maryella Maloney is a Betty Boop-like character come to life, full of charm and faux-sexuality; Doug Carfrae as Senator Max Evergreen does a decent send-up of a pompous politician; Andrew Metzger is in excellent voice and ripe with rich double-takes as Police Chief Berry; Kathy Fitzgerald is a scene-stealer as Carrie Nation-like Prohibitionist Duchesses Estonia Dulworth — her “Demon Rum” duet with Metzger’s Chief Berry is a hilarious hats-off to teetotalism; and Gloria Loring as Millicent Winter fills what amounts to a cameo appearance with a pleasing denouement to the staging. 

Add to this the extraordinary stagecraft of Derek McLane’s fine scenery design; Martin Pakledinaz’s eye-catching costumes; Paul Black’s effervescent lighting  design; the indispensable sound design of Audio Production Geeks LLC, and  DiPietro’s rather hackneyed creation is transcended to become a highly watchable theater experience. 

“Nice Work if You Can Get it” continues Fridays — Sundays  through April 22 (with an 8 p.m. performance on Thursday, April 19) at the  Carpenter Performing Arts Center — 6200 E. Atherton, Long Beach. 

For reservations, call (562)856-1999, ext. 4. For online ticketing and further details, visit www. musical.org


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