“Nice Work if You Can Get It”, Music by George and Ira Gershwin, Santa Rosa JC’s Summer Rep Festival, Santa Rosa CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Photos by Tom Chown
“Nice Work” is a Nice Kickoff for SRT’s 45th
If you haven’t made it to one of the Summer Repertory Theatre Festivals at Santa Rosa JC yet, you’ve been missing out. For decades now, the best of the best of college theatre students from all over the country have converged on Santa Rosa for the summer, treating us locals to some of the best live theatre we’ll see all year. It’s a true repertory theatre company in that each student plays roles in multiple shows, from supporting parts to leads. The result? Performances by some of the most talented, versatile student theatre artists in the US.
Celebrating its 45th season, Summer Rep kicks off its 2016 festival of five shows with “Nice Work if You Can Get It”, a musical romantic-comedy romp by Joe DiPietro showcasing some of the Gershwin brothers’ very best. It was first presented on Broadway in 2012 with Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara in the leads, and won two Tony Awards. The tissue-thin story didn’t win any Pulitzer prizes, but it wasn’t meant to. Set during the Roaring Twenties, when prohibition and the Jazz Age were in full swing, it’s a classic “boy meets girl” with the two subplot romances that seem to be standard in classic American musicals. We’re treated to excellent renditions of Gershwin classics while being entertained by the screwball antics of bootleggers, flappers and ritzy playboys. This gives the costume and set designers (Genevieve Beller and Ryan Howell) a chance to pull out all the stops, and they do – to slinky, shiny, dazzling effect.
A stunning opening number “Sweet and Low Down” sets the bar high for staging, song and dance. The quality is sustained throughout the show with snappy choreography and stage direction by Anne McAlexander. Every member of the ensemble has a sense of purpose, and each is a top-notch triple-threat talent, from the smallest ensemble role to the lead. It’s a pleasant surprise to find out, when that chorus boy’s turn to sing his couple of lines comes along, he’s a fabulous tenor and can do a good time step, too. Musical director and conductor Adrian Ries adeptly guides the 13-piece orchestra through the jazzy, sweetly upbeat score, and does justice to the popular music of more innocent times.
Alex Stewart (sheer perfection in the role of Jimmy Winter), could have been Gene Kelly’s star pupil. He’s got the voice and the moves, and like Kelly, makes it all look so easy. Jimmy falls for a lady bootlegger named Billie, played with graceful strength and charisma by Aubrey Reece. Their mutual attraction complicates things, since Jimmy is engaged to a senator’s daughter who also happens to be the “finest interpreter of modern dance” in the whole wide world – Miss Eileen Evergreen, played with adorable gusto by Sophie Madorsky (her “Delishious” number is one of the best in the show, and with all the great numbers, that’s really saying something).
The cast seems to be channeling characters from a Damon Runyon novel, especially Daniel Bellusci as Billie’s partner in crime, the wise-guy Cookie McGee (who has some winning moments masquerading as a butler), and his dim-witted partner Duke Mahoney, played by Mark Jammal.
Such tight pacing demands not only stamina, but perfect timing, and tests the endurance of the cast, which seems to be up to the task. During one of the first performances, there was a little slowdown in the middle of the second act, but they soon found their second wind. This was early in the run, so they will likely find their footing as the show progresses. The energy onstage is cranked up to fever-pitch and never lets the performers, or the audience, catch their breath. The breakneck pacing could be slowed a bit in places to allow for more of an ebb and flow, which might increase the impact of the more energetic numbers. It may be short on substance, but “Nice Work” is long on entertainment.
When: Now through August 13, 2015
Performances: Weekdays (except Mondays) and weekends
2:00 p.m. matinees, 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. evenings
(See www.SummerRep.com for details)
Tickets: $15 to $25
Where: Santa Rosa Junior College
1501 Mendocino Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95401