They say that entertainment should be a diversion, allowing the viewer to have a period of time where his or her everyday life is absent from his or her mind. I agree with this in total! The two plus hours that one spends in a theater, watching a live performance should be just that- escapism for the pressures of the job or school or even family. Theatre At The Center, that fine -tuned venue in Munster Indiana, just over the border, each year ,brings us a season that offers theater-goers a variety of old and new works, some musicals and some not. Their current production is the Chicagoland premiere of the Broadway hit, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”. Two hours plus of great Gershwin hit tunes set into a book written by Joe DiPietro( who has written many non-musical plays).
George and Ira Gershwin were very prolific songwriters who gave the musical theater many great songs as well as some amazing music (“American In Paris”, “Rhapsody in Blue” and many more) that are used in this musical about the “Roaring Twenties”, a time when prohibition played havoc on the lives of those who truly enjoy a drink (or two). In the story ,playboy Jimmy Winter (a sterling performance by Justin Brill who is indeed a triple threat performer), who only loves fun and games and love and marriage finds himself mixed up with a female bootlegger, Billie Bendix (the charming Erica Stephan) on the week-end of his fourth wedding. His bride to be, is a dancer, Elena Evergreen ( the very “leggy” Julie Baird).
The bootlegger and her gang , needing a hideaway for the boxes of “hootch” have settled on Jimmy’s beach house, as he told Billie he never goes there. OOPS- turns out, he is planning to use this house for his honeymoon. When the couple arrives, along with Elena’s prohibition family, all hell breaks loose and the fun begins. Billie and her gang, Duke ( the very funny John Stemberg) and Cookie (a brilliant portrayal by Stef Tovar, who continues to show us his ability and agility in musicals. This character has all the truly funny lines and Tovar delivers them as if they were written for him.) become staff for Jimmy making for some very funny moments.
Elena’s dad, Senator Max Evergreen(deftly handled by Rick Rapp) is running for office and his sister, Estonia (a sharp comic touch played to perfection by Laura Freeman) bring some very comedic moments to the show. There is a luncheon scene in act two that will knock your socks off. In fact, while the entire show is fun, it seems that act two is the one that makes you fall in love with the characters. There are many hidden surprises in this story that make it even more fun. The songs are old, and many are ones that you have heard many times in the past. Listen to this partial list: “Demon Rum”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”. “Delisious”, “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”, “Lady Be Good”, “Blah, Blah,Blah”, “S’Wonderful”, “Fascinating Rhythm”( a great number ending Act One with some snappy dance numbers that might have had an even better effect if they had been “tap” , and of course the title song, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”. Danny Herman’s choreography is powerful and uses the full stage at TAC.
Smoothly directed by William Pullinsi with Herman, this is a smooth running production with an energetic and talented cast of players:Annelise Baker as Jeannie Muldoon (the gorgeous showgirl), Jake Stempel as Chief Berry, Debbie DiVerde as Millicent Winter (Jimmy’s mother), Nathan Middleman, Kayla Kennedy, Tony Carter, Ann Delaney, Ryan Naimy, Amanda Compton LoPresti , Matt Casey and Megan Gill. As I always say, a show is only as good as its parts and the ensemble is a key part of the whole production.
The set (Richard and Jacqueline Penrod) is somewhat multi-functional and the lighting (Guy Rhodes) and sound (Barry G. Funderburg) all work to make this show look good. Brenda Winstead’s costumes are delicious and the wigs by Kevin Barthal work with the times. Brittney O’Keefe’s props are wonderful. Bill Underwood, as usual makes the music with his orchestra featuring Nick Anderson, Jean Hoffman, Matt Beck, Diane Hansen, Linda Madonia or Randy Glancy on keyboard #2, while Underwood conducts and plays keyboard #1.
“Nice Work” will continue at Theatre At The Center located at 1040 Ridge Road in Munster through June 5th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 2 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m.
There will be a Thursday performance on the 26th at 7:30 p.m.
Extra Saturdays at 3 p.m. 5/21 and 6/4
Tickets range from $40-$44 and can be purchased by calling219-836-3255 or toll-free 800-511-1552. Online at www.TheaterAtTheCenter.com
Plenty of free parking and there are lots of dining opportunities in Munster, just a few blocks from the theater.
To see what others are saying about this production, visit wwwtheatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Nice Work If You Can Get It”