The music of the Gershwins has been enjoyed by theatregoers for decades and continues to be reinvigorated and recontextualised in new productions. This is true of the perhaps lesser known, Nice Work If You Can Get It (featuring some certain Gershwin favourites and a book by Joe DiPietro to boot), which only made its Broadway debut in 2012. Since its stint in the US, Melbourne audiences have been afforded the wonderful opportunity, by theatre juggernaut The Production Company, of being the first to experience this work outside of the states. A star-studded affair, this production of a relatively new piece of theatre, with a very hearty throw to the essence of Broadway, is an often hilarious, exceptionally engaging and ultimately entertaining night out in Melbourne.
As a veteran of The Production Company, Roger Hodgman, directed this piece with the necessary vigour and calculated era-specific nuances that keeps the audience enthralled. What’s impressive is his ability to make this narrative, which on the surface seems so far removed from our modern lives, seem so relevant and relatable. It is his careful balance of humour and heart that wins the audience over.
Musical direction by John Foreman is just as you’d expect; tight, dynamic and full of character. The way in which the orchestra was assembled on stage was actually quite striking and was a very welcomed feature of the overall vibe of the stage. Unfortunately there were instances that found the volume of the sound prove a little inconsistent, with the orchestra drowning out some of the vocals on stage. This appeared to be remedied as the production went on.
In addition to the visual of the orchestra, the set design worked exceptionally well. Its versatility and simplicity proving to be aesthetically pleasing, but also lending nicely as a contrast to the chaos that ensued around it. The lighting design was a little hit-and-miss while the use of projections sometimes came across as a little uninspired and often unnecessary.
Costume design was incredibly appropriate and did well to really immerse the audience in what was being presented. The costuming very much added to the characterisation of those on stage and appeared very well-researched and aptly-inspired.
Choreography by Dana Jolly was sensational, really offering that true, traditional-Broadway feel. The styles were incredibly era-appropriate and certainly contributed to that overall ‘wow factor’.
In terms of performances, as ‘Jimmy Winter’, Rohan Browne is a knockout! His ability to make an entire audience fall in love with an ignorant, somewhat arrogant and entirely spoilt buffoon is brilliant. His performance went from strength to strength and was done in a way that seemed so very effortless. His work with Esther Hannaford (‘Billie’) was charming and endearing.
Hannaford was a complete standout in her own right. Her voice was completely mesmerising and fit the style of the show so brilliantly. Her character development was captivating and her versatility inspiring to any aspiring performer.
As ‘Eileen Evergreen’, Christie Whelan Browne was hilarious. Her interpretive dance moves were a sure crowd favourite and, coupled with her quirky facial expressions and vocal dynamics, her performance was beautifully melodramatic.
George Kapiniaris’ take on bootlegger ‘Cookie McGee’ was superb. Not only was his comedic timing and physical comedy simply perfect, his vocal chops and suave dance skills were quite a treat and certainly added further dimensions to such a surprisingly layered character.
Also of note were the performances of Monica Swayne and Jensen Overend who played ‘Jeannie’ and ‘Duke’ respectively. The duo did very well to sell their unlikely pairing, ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ reflecting a beautiful balance of romance and goofy humour.
Often solid performances by the likes of John Wood, Gina Riley, Nicki Wendt and Tony Farrell rounded out an incredibly strong leading cast.
The ensemble of this production should be acknowledged for their intense energy and consistency. They represented to era supremely and their execution of the choreography was punchy and a real spectacle to witness.
The Production Company have done well to bring a real, old-Broadway feel to Melbourne, injected with some contemporary influences and energy. A real crowd pleasure with a sensational cast.
Nice Work If You Can Get It is playing at The Arts Centre, Melbourne until Sunday 23rd August.