NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (Works Nice For Families)
By Erin Leigh Peck
I recently had a conversation with one of my favorite theatre reviewers and bloggers, BroadwayWorld’s Michael Dale. Okay, not really a conversation, it was via Twitter, which is sort of like having an email exchange except all your phrases have to be under 140 characters.
We were lamenting the challenges of creating a truly great show for modern family audiences, and how rare it is to find a Broadway musical that appeals to adults and kids alike. Dale was reminiscing about the shows he was exposed to as a child, My Fair Lady, The Mikado, 1776 and Camelot (to name a few) and how much he loved them. Images of a young Michael Dale being inspired to write about theatre for a living sprang to mind, and I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to expose my children to quality theatre now, while their taste buds are still being formed.
Luckily we were already scheduled to see NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, Tony award-winning playwright Joe DiPietro’s re-working of the 1926 Gershwin tuner Oh, Kay! Set during the prohibition era, the show is a madcap, screwball comedy that tells the story of a wealthy playboy (Matthew Broderick, in his first Broadway role since his Tony-winning performance in The Producers) who falls for a tough as nails bootlegger (Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara). Directed and choreographed by Tony award winner Kathleen Marshall, this new musical has all the trimmings of a period piece with a veil of subtle, modern humor draped over it. Between DiPietro’s comic slant and Broderick’s dry takes, the laughs are honestly earned, not just polite acknowledgments of what might have been funny a long time ago.
“When writing the show, I wanted to take the clichés of the 1920's musicals and turn them on their ear,” says DiPietro. And he has, not only by making the show funny to modern audiences but also in the way he writes his female characters.
“In all those shows, the women were always ditzy or simply looking for love. In ‘Nice Work,’ the women are, for the most part, much smarter and wily than the men. And by the end, the women control all the shots”.
That alone made it a show I was proud to bring my daughter to see, not to mention the brief history lesson she received about the 1920’s…the style, the music and of course, that political misstep they called prohibition.
With some harmless sexual innuendo (the kind a kid could just as easily find on an episode of Victorious or Modern Family) and some slapstick style gun action, the show is best for kids ages 8 and up. I definitely recommend explaining some back-story to your child before taking them the show. My daughter didn’t know who George and Ira Gershwin were; although once the show started she did start to recognize a few of the songs. I explained to her that these were the “pop” songs of the 1920’s and were now considered standards. (“What’s a standard?” “It’s an old song that was considered pop before we had rock and roll and has endured for years.” “Like 80’s music?” “Not exactly.”)
I explained how Joe DiPietro was charged with taking these songs and this 1920’s plot and using them to create a whole new musical that was technically modern but takes place and is done in the style of the 1920’s. I also had to explain prohibition to her, but it didn’t come up until half way into the first scene, which incited a bunch of shushing from the ladies sitting behind us. Once I managed to whisper the point across, my daughter was able to sit back and get a little history lesson on the 1920’s. (We go shushed again when O’Hara’s character is handed an old-fashioned shotgun and my daughter didn’t recognize the prop as a firearm. “Is that what guns looked like in the olden days?”)
Bringing your family to see a period piece with contemporary humor makes the classic music more accessible. I couldn’t help thinking how much this was like The Boyfriend, with characters in flapper costumes barely containing a sense of celebration brimming at the surface, waiting to explode into forbidden song and dance. But of course, Nice Work if You Can Get It was written by a modern playwright, so it’s more like The Boyfriend on crack.
After the show I was lucky enough to chat with director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall and star Kelli O’Hara, both moms.
“So many of us in this company have kids, it’s really a family company,” said Marshall. “It’s great to see so many kids in the audience.”
O’Hara’s little one is barely three, but has been a regular presence around the theatre and has caught a number here and there during rehearsals and tech.
“We’re not sure he’s ready to sit down for the whole show,” said O’Hara.
“You never know if during a quiet moment he’s going to shout ‘That’s my Mommy!’”
Many of us who had stuck around to talk to Marshall and O’Hara had brought our kids with us, and the age range seemed to be around 8 to 10. While some of the plot may have gone over their heads, the general consensus seemed to be that if your child is old enough to sit through a two and a half hour Broadway musical, this one is a great choice.
It’s whimsical and silly with enough subtle, modern humor to hold an older kid’s attention.
“Throw in a bunch of colorful costumes and dancing, as well as a bunch of wacky characters (including a bootlegger-disguised-as-a-butler pretty much modeled on Bugs Bunny,) and kids seem to have a really good time at the show,” says DiPietro.
My daughter and I have to agree.
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