Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Stage

Cast's spirit lifts Richey Suncoast Theatre's 'Nice Work If You Can Get It'

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Richey Suncoast Theatre continues to bat 1.000 with its third big show of the regular season, Nice Work If You Can Get It, the 2012 Broadway musical featuring the music of George and Ira Gershwin and a Drama Desk Award-winning and Tony-nominated book by Joe DiPietro.

Like this season's previous shows, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Leading Ladies, Nice Work boasts a terrific cast and crew, this time featuring deft direction by David Bethards and Linda Hoagland; rip-roaring dances by resident choreographer Melissa Smith; colorful, era-setting costumes and props by Emily Nettnin, and, well, nice work by music director Mark Anthony Jelks' seven-piece combo, even if the overture was a tad jagged.

The story takes place in the Roaring '20s, but the show's sensibilities are definitely 21st century, with sly political and cultural zingers zip-zapping everyone. The pace is perfect, the scene changes swift and unobtrusive, lights and sounds right on cue, and the overall spirit of the show over the moon.

Elizabeth Phillips is splendid as Billie Bendix, the tough-talking, assertive, confident boss of a three-person gin-smuggling ring. She's macho, but soft; commanding, but kind; and her voice and face are those of a angel, longing for Someone to Watch Over Me, lamenting love lost in But Not for Me, brazen as she plays an aggressive serving maid Hangin' Around With You and Treat Me Rough and moving as she wonders Will You Remember Me?

The always-delightful Brian Moran is a darling as Jimmy Winter, a spoiled, much-married playboy who wants to please his rich, demanding mother (a superb Linda Willding) and still have his heart's desire. Moran delivers writer DiPietro's one-liners with zest and a knowing little smirk, earning many of the show's biggest laughs.

Jeff Schoonmaker plays the role of his life as Cookie McGee, a smart, scheming bootlegger with a heart of brass. The directors capitalize on Schoonmaker's talents, and he really comes through, popping up at just the right moment to add comedy and laughter to what could otherwise be plain vanilla scenes.

He's blessed to share several scenes with Jessica Glass, as Duchess Woodford, the self-righteous, anti-booze president of the Society of Dry Women, a moniker that gets eye rolls even from its owner. Glass' fearless physical humor is a show-stopper, and her strong, sure voice rings to the rafters.

Megan Gillespie is adorable as Eileen Evergreen, the off-key, clumsy diva of modern dance, a commendable performance by an actor who's actually a fine singer and dancer.

Icing on the cake is Michael McGuigan as the dim-bulb bootlegger Duke Maloney, mistaken for English royalty by the simple-minded chorus girl Jeannie Muldoon, played by a cute and appealing Janine Paradiso. Tony Carico is the consummate double-speaking politician/minister Senator Max Evergreen, bloviating at the drop of a lemonade glass. Jim Steele is the aces as the quick-on-the-draw Police Chief Berry, his comical send-up of overzealous police moves a hoot.

The nine-member ensemble is a delight singing and dancing big production numbers with agility and finesse, from Eileen's bathtub caper Delishious with choreographer Smith's ingenious use of a big bath sheet to show off some fancy footwork, to the entire cast filling the stage with movement and color to Fascinating Rhythm, with lots in between.

Nice Work shows off those old, beloved, hummable Gershwin tunes, but its snappy, surprise-a-minute dialogue and up-to-date sentiments make it as appealing — okay, even more appealing — than many big, long-running Broadway hits. The execution by the bunch at Richey Suncoast does the whole thing up proud, providing a fine piece of entertainment and something not to be missed by anyone who enjoys musical theater.

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