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Music Circus does a nice job on ‘Nice Work’

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” took many twists and turns on its way to where it is today — a sterling production at Sacramento’s Music Circus.

Set in the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, the play is a song-and-dance screwball comedy with a book by Joe DiPietro and music by George and Ira Gershwin. Although it feels a bit like a “jukebox musical” or a Gershwin’s greatest hits package, you can’t get a much better soundtrack than “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” ” ‘S Wonderful,” “But Not for Me,” “Fascinating Rhythm” and more than a dozen more.

The musical was first produced in 2001 under the title “They All Laughed.” Well, they didn’t laugh enough. New producers  came along, and the play was work-shopped in 2007 as “Heaven on Earth.” It was expected to open on Broadway in 2009 with Harry Connick Jr. starring. But in 2008, it was “officially postponed.”

Until … another set of producers came along, and in April 2012, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (its new title) opened on Broadway with Matthew Broderick in the lead. It ran until June 2013. A national tour began in September 2014 and continued until March 2015.

Wow, that’s some history — and not all of it good as far as reviews went. But today’s version is wonderful, full of energy and spark and sparkle.

Photo by Charr Crail
Michael Kostroff is the scene-stealing Cookie McGee in “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

Matt Loehr stars as Jimmy Winter, a drunken, divorcing (again) playboy who is told by his mother Millicent (hilariously played by Jamie Jones) that he must make a proper, respectable marriage this time or forfeit the family fortune.
What happens next involves a bunch of showgirls, the “preeminent interpreter of modern dance in the world” (hysterically played in all seriousness by Paige Faure), cops, feds and a trio of bootleggers — Duke, Cookie and Billie. Mark Bradley Miller’s Duke is a lug of a guy who’s “not good with words”; Kristie Kerwin’s Billie has a wonderfully pure voice and stage presence; and Michael Krostroff’s Cookie McGee steals scene after scene as the bootlegger-reluctantly-turned butler who shows the prohibitionist, Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Madeleine Doherty), the joys of gin. There’s some politics involved, and both Republicans and Democrats take some good-natured (and very tame by this year’s campaigning) lumps. And finally, of course, there’s the happy ending — and who gets whom may be no surprise, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.

Charles Repole directs with the lightness of touch required for such fluff, while Heather Lockard’s costume design, Joe Caruso, Jr.’s sound design and Stephen Gifford’s set design for the in-the-round production make it look and sound just like you’d want it to.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 & 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (final show). Tickets are $45-$93 and are available by phone at (916) 557-1999, online at californiamusicaltheatre.com, or in person at the box office. Music Circus is in the Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H. Street.


Even More “Work”


It is interesting to note that another production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” also is running — and closing — this weekend. The production by Santa Rosa Repertory Theatre stars Alex Danger Stewart as Jimmy Winter.

Sacramento native Stewart is a graduate of Natomas Charter School — Performing and Fine Arts Academy, a former dancer with the Sacramento Ballet and a recent graduate of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. He and his brother Tim (another singer/dancer and a graduate of Sacramento State) produced a couple of musical comedy revues as fundraisers for the ballet company.

The Santa Rosa “Nice Work If You Can Get It” is performed at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (final show). Tickets are $15-$25 and are available by phone at (707) 527-4307, online at summerrep.com or at the box office if available. The show is presented in the Burbank Auditorium at Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.

Featured photo by Charr Crail

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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