Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get It

As director and choreographer, Kathleen Marshall helms this delicious and tuneful musical comedy at the Imperial Theatre this spring.

The concept - cobble together some of the best George and Ira Gershwin tunes in a new book by Joe DePietro and cast some wonderful singers and dancers, stitch up some magnificent costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) design and build some divine sets (Derek McLane) and light them with elegance and charm (Peter Kaczorowski) and mic the actors/singers perfectly (Brian Ronan).

Take all these wonderful ingredients and pour in a little bleach - - yes bleach.  That's a sure way to ruin an entire show!  The bleach in this case is Matthew Broderick.  He's completely mis-cast.  Is he funny? Yes.  Can he carry a tune? Certainly.   But this role requires a dashing, young man who can dance.  Matthew is neither a dancer nor dashing.  So poor was this casting faux-pax by Binder Casting (Jay Binder and Jack Bowdan) that it just about ruins the entire show!

Kelli O'Hara is divine, pitch-perfect, and deliciously innocent as bootlegger Billie Bendix.  Michael McGrath is broodingly devilish as Cookie McGee.  Judy Kaye is solidly and supremely hysterical as Dutchess Estonia Dulworth and Estelle Parsons is superb and commanding in her portrayal of Millicent Winter.   The ensemble dancers were crisp, handsome and pretty, elegant, and never missed a step - or a note!  With all this goodness - how could it all go wrong?  I'll tell you how.  Cast a stiff, non-dancing, not-extremely handsome oaf in a role that is central to the plot.  Ms. O'Hara appears to be dancing on egg-shells around him on the many occasions they are required to tango.  Ms. Parsons appears to easily dominate her stiff son's character leaving us to wonder why she would even bother.  And one wonders why the powerhouse Mr. McGrath didn't just conk his new "boss" over the head with a bottle of that gin instead of faking his butler duties with him.

This is a lesson in just how to take a charming, delightful, and delicious show and ruin the entire presentation with just one stroke of the casting pen.  Truth be told, I left the theatre humming many of the familiar tunes.  I really loved the silly, romantic comedy book, but just couldn't get over the awful casting choice that Ms. Marshall either bought into or was forced to accept.  Mr. Broderick stood out like a sore thumb surrounded by all the talent on the stage.  If a real charming actor who could dance was actually cast in this role, this show might be considered the knock-out hit of the season.  Instead, it's more like a bottle of gin during prohibition - destined to be smashed in the gutter by a cop.