I’m just back from my January culture trip to DC – every winter my husband and I drive up for a show and a visit to a museum, always making sure to stop by Kramerbooks and Afterwords to buy new anticipated books to get us through ‘til summer. On Saturday night we walked to the Warner Theater to see Nice Work If You Can Get It, a musical comedy set to George and Ira Gershwins’ tunes. Never would I think for a minute that I would write these words: We See Better Theater in Richmond. About halfway through the show I wanted to stand up and yell, “You don’t have to do the story anymore! Just carry on with the singing and dancing! Don’t do this to the Gershwins!”
Alas. No one would have listened. The show had to go on so I couldn’t bellow, “You’re right! Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!”
Don’t get me wrong – the singing and dancing were excellent and the acting just fine. And the cast was even, something I don’t always find in shows. The problem, for me, was the book, written by Joe DiPietro (Memphis) with a plot borrowed from the 1926 musical Oh Kay which was written for Gertrude Lawrence; Kathleen Marshall, who’d done such great work with Cole Porter’s songs in Anything Goes, is a gifted director and choreographer. Unfortunately, the efforts weren’t so charming here. For two hours we learned about much married playboy Jimmy Winter who doesn’t want to marry Eileen Evergreen, an Isadora Duncan wanna-be, because he falls in love with tough talking bootlegger Billie Bendix whose singing and dancing cronies are keeping cases of booze in the mansion’s basement and don’t forget the parts where the shimmery chorus girl thinks one of the crooks is royalty and Jimmy’s almost father-in-law turns out to be an old beau of his mother’s so after that little roll on the beach, well, darn, turns out Jimmy is his. . . . Anyway, I will let your imagination run with the rest. This was not ‘S Wonderful. Some of the lines were so flat, I forgot them immediately.
During the rather tepid applause, I asked my husband, an actor, what he thought of all this and he said it’s not the cast’s fault, they didn’t have much to work with. Moreover, one of the themes for him was how cheaply can we do this show for? Spartan sets, a thin program. . As George and Ira would write, Blah, Blah, Blah.
Who in a million years would ever think a group of people could almost ruin the Gershwins? (Though I admit I did liked the part where Duchess Estonia Dulworth swung on the chandelier.) I have seen a lot of musicals so I understand madcap and the willing suspension of disbelief and yet, I can’t help but see this show as another example of the dummification of American theater.
I guess Someone Needs to Watch Over Me the next time I buy theater tickets.