David Weir, London Pub Theatres
The word jukebox came into common American usage about the same year George Gershwin died but the concept of a jukebox musical might well have captured the old showman’s imagination. NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT is just such a beast, a compilation of some of the two Gershwin brothers’ most charming hits with a new book written by Joe Dipietro for a 2001 New York premiere. But since the book is hung around material from Guy Bolton and PG Wodehouse, a writing team whose phenomenally successful musical comedies saw them dominate Broadway in the late 1920s and 1930s, you’d be hard pressed to know the show wasn’t a full-minted original. Ovation’s UK premiere of the show Upstairs at the Gatehouse certainly mixes the ingredients into a perfect cocktail.Read More
1920s New York – the land of speakeasies, jazz and chorus gals. Prohibition’s in full swing, but, like the nice work of the title, you can get booze if you try. When bootleggers Cookie McGee (David Pendlebury) and Billie Bendix (Jessica Elizabeth-Nelson) find the cops (Harry Cooper-Millar) on their tail, they need a patsy to hide their moonshine. That unknowing patsy is playboy Jimmy Winter (Alistair So), shortly to embark on his fourth misguided marriage to ‘the world’s greatest interpreter of modern dance’ (Charlotte Scally), and whose house both needs servants and has a cellar where ‘butler’ Cookie and ‘cockney maid’ Billie can hide their stash.
The cast is further fleshed out with a temperance aunt you know will love the sauce when she accidentally hits it, a senator in need of re-election, a dumb guy named Duke and a dumb gal who thinks he is one, and more from the well-stocked cupboard of Wodehousian characters well beyond Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.
It’s the songs, of course, that make the show, among them Someone to Watch Over Me, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off and ‘S Wonderful, and the six-piece band led by Chris Poon and a universally excellent 12-strong cast deliver perfectly from first note to final crescendo.
The two leads Alistair So as the pink-suited Jimmy (a nod to Gatsby, there, the greatest of all the 1920s bootleggers) and Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson as a tomboyish Billy are especially charming, funny and convincingly in love across the barriers of class, wealth and Jimmy’s endless supply of unsuitable leggy broads. The set-pieces are also hilarious, none more than Charlotte Scally’s Delishious, when the spoiled Broadway star takes a bath as she tells us how imponderably lovely she is.
The choreography’s as clever and precise as it has to be for 12 dancers in a traverse space where they’re almost dancing cheek to cheek with the front rows on either side.
All in all, the standard’s so high you wonder why you’d spend £80 quid to see this in the West End when you can have singing, dancing, acting and music of this quality for a quarter of that price up in Highgate.
Nice ticket if you can get one. ‘S Wonderful, ‘s marvellous. You got to be there.
View the original review at London Pub Theatres
Patrick Honoré, Musical Theatre Review
The Gatehouse has done it again with the first-rate UK, and I think European, premiere production of the Gershwin jukebox musical as its 21st Christmas musical offering.Read More
One must give credit to director John Plews for his impeccable taste and bold choice of bringing a not so well known property outside of the top five too often revived classic musicals which to me would be: Carousel, Anything Goes, Kiss Me, Kate, Cabaret and the Gershwins’ own Crazy For You. Although those are great and timeless, it is so refreshing to see something new, especially if it’s something old-fashioned as well, but in a good way.
Speaking of Gershwin, it’s interesting to point out that, even though this show has a lot of songs in common with the other two Gershwin catalogue musicals – My One and Only, Crazy For You (otherwise they would be the perfect trilogy), Nice Work only has one in common with the recent stage version of An American in Paris.
It is also the only one to have a completely original book, and a hysterically funny one at that, by Joe DiPietro. Whereas My One and Only is a reworking of Funny Face and Crazy For You is based on Girl Crazy, Nice Work If You Can Get It has a completely new storyline exploring the more risqué and less politically correct sides of the prohibition era, with strong relevance to today’s world.
Originally titled They All Laughed, the show had rough beginnings, opening to mixed reviews at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 2001 and then reworked as a vehicle for Harry Connick Jr who bowed out of the project for unknown reasons. It ultimately opened on Broadway at the Imperial theatre in 2012, running for over 500 performances, winning three Drama Desk and two Tony Awards and showcasing the talent of the great director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall as well as the odd pairing of Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara, with Judy Kaye stealing the show in the end.
The leading couple at the Gatehouse has much better chemistry and youthful charms: Alistair So is a more than capable song and dance man and is perfectly matched with triple threat Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson.
West End veterans Nova Skipp and David Pendlebury are equally excellent. Skipp’s Mrs Dulworth, the prohibition champion discovering the joys of alcohol, plays opposite Pendlebury as Cookie in the delicious ‘Looking for a Boy’.
Charlotte Scally as Eileen, Harry Cooper-Millar as Chief Berry and Fraser Fraser as the Duke are all hilarious as well in ‘Delishious’, ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’ and ‘Do It Again’ respectively. But however great those Gershwin songs are, we must again give credits to DiPietro for having come up with a book for which they seem to have been written for.
As always at the Gatehouse, everything is highly professional: musical director Chris Poon conducts a great live band, the design is by Pollyanna Elston and lighting is by Sam Waddington – all West End calibre.
But the choreography, this time by Grant Murphy, assisted by dance captain Adam Crossley (also playing Elliott), is again the highest point of this not-to-be-missed gem of a show, working wonders in the comparatively limited space of the traverse stage.
How lucky we are in the end that the West End transfer never happened as this show, in the expert hands of John Plews, works just as fine in an intimate space.
Following this superb Ovation Productions show, other dates with Gershwin at the Gatehouse are set for the end of next March with Strike Up the Band, though that time it won’t be an in-house production.
View the original review at Musical Theatre Review
Julian Eaves, British Theatre. Com
The Christmas season show at this premier London fringe theatre is always the flagship event of the year, awaited with keen expectation. This year, the enterprising Plews have scored quite a coup in winning the UK premiere of Joe Dipietro’s Tony Award-winning ‘invention’ of a ‘new’ screwball musical comedy that draws generously – but always lightly – on the delightfully jocund and silly 1920s musicals of Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse: a world of two-dimensional but vivid characters, madcap escapades and always punchily topical resonances, held up to good-natured satirical inspection.Read More
The musical score (supervised by Charlie Ingles) here is patched together out of some well-known, and some almost-never-heard-before tunes by George and Ira Gershwin, which never fail to delight. And the musical stagings by Grant Murphy (assisted by Amy Perry) arise seamlessly out of the brisk direction by Plews: watch out for perhaps the stand-out theatrical coup of the bathtime sequence, in which Pollyanna Elston’s design rises to wonderful heights of silliness, and not forgetting her always impeccable attention to detail in the ravishing costuming of the production (supervised by Nadine Froehlich, with lovely wigs by another member of the host family team, Jessica Plews). Everything is handsomely lit by Sam Waddington, and sound design is by Nico Menghini, who does wonders to balance the twelve voices of the cast with the brash, brassy band of six up in the musicians’ gallery.
It is in the fortunes of the characters, however, that our hearts remain securely involved. Alistair So (Jimmy Winter) is an up-and-coming talent, recently covering for Lun Tha in the opulent production of ‘The King and I’ at the Palladium, and his is a voice of wonderful beauty, with some really knock-out top notes and a lush, warm centre; opposite him, Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson (Billie Bendix) is perfectly contrasted, with a steely, crystalline mezzo that can make the brassiest show tune or the softest, most delicate ballad shine with a pearly luminescence. Extraordinarily, the musical director, Chris Poon is making his professional debut with this sterling cast, and eliciting from them top drawer performances that bespeak a glittering career ahead of him (some may have experienced his stunning ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ for NYMT at The Other Palace a couple of summers ago, amongst other highlights in his already impressive CV).
The rest of the cast comprise the gorgeously awful fiancee, Eileen Evergreen (Charlotte Scally), David Pendlebury’s bumptiously lovable rogue, Cookie McGee, Jeannie Muldoon’s by turns coy and vulgar Abigail Earnshaw, Fraser Fraser’s winningly gauche Duke Mahoney, Harry Cooper-Millar’s gullible and dim Chief Berry, Stuart Simons’ clunkingly indulgent paterfamilias, Senator Max Evergreen, Grace McInerny’s double whammy as friend Dottie and the superb mother, Millicent, the awful killjoy Estonia Dulworth – a riot of fun in the hands of Nova Skipp, and the other ensemble players of Adam Crossley (the Senator’s chum, Elliot, and also dance captain) and Kirsten Mackie (who also takes the featured role of Rosie).
While the script wanders from time to time in its grip on the right tone, and the comic spirit may from time to time fall as well as rise, the essence of the show is always very much situated in the right place, and as holiday fare, this could hardly prove a more effective distraction from the many unpleasant realities currently preoccupying us. Just as in the 1920s, today has its appetite for escapist fun, and this show provides that in abundance. Go and enjoy!
View the original review at British Theatre. Com
David Winskill, Ham & High
Hats off to John and Katie Plews for their determination in bringing Nice Work If You Can Get It to Highgate.
They first saw the show in New York six years ago: a juke-box collection of the Gershwin brothers’ greatest hits. The director/producer couple’s hard work has paid off with this UK premier (until end of January).Read More
We’re in Prohibition New York and a motley collection of boot-leggers are trying to earn a crust by supplying hooch to Speakeasies. The leader of the gang is the hard bitten, but suspicious and endearingly insecure Billie Bendix who, during a chance encounter with spoiled rich kid Jimmy Winter steals his wallet … then he steals her heart.
Along the way we meet some preposterous characters, all lifted from American feel-good musicals of the Thirties and Forties. They include a chorus of dancing dames, a hoodlum turned butler (an engaging softie played with great comic skill by David Pendlebury), a self-absorbed interpretive dancer (the electric Charlotte Scally), a corrupt senator, a naive but sensitive police chief and many other old tropes all played with passion, commitment and an infectious sense of fun.
The energy in the dance numbers (more Black Bottoms than you can shake a stick at) is breathtaking: watch out for the bathing scene and count the legs!The music is provided by a small ensemble perched high above the action; small, but perfectly formed and enthusiastically supplying the authentic Gershwin sound.Across the piece the singing was outstanding and lots of old favourites get an airing ( Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, Someone to watch over me, ‘S Wonderful, Blah, Blah, Blah and many more).
Alistair So was excellent as Jimmy – a spot-on mixture of sex appeal and dumbness. Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson was Streisandesque as Billie; she captured the vulnerability and the sassiness of the character and her singing was full blooded and passionate.
Nice Work is a fabulous alternative to pantomime for the family Christmas outing.
View the original review at Ham & High
Adam Tipping, Pocket Size Theatre
Rapidly approaching their 21st anniversary at “Upstairs at the Gatehouse”, there is no denying that Katie and John Plews have created something simply unique and welcoming at this brilliant North London fringe theatre venue. Their latest production sees them debut the UK premiere production of the hit Broadway show “Nice Work If You Can Get It”.Read More
Headed by Alistair So and Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson, this stellar cast have delved head first into creating an extremely charming and delightful adaptation for this debut. Set in the 1920s, Nice Work If You Can Get It follows dapper playboy Jimmy Winter (Alistair So), a wealthy gentleman who meets rough and ready female bootlegger Billie Bendix (Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson) on the weekend of his wedding. Jimmy, who has previously been married three times before, is preparing to marry Eileen Evergreen (Charlotte Scally), “the world’s greatest interpreter of modern dance”. Assuming Jimmy and Eileen will be out of town, Billie and her gang of bootleggers hide cases of alcohol in the basement of Jimmy’s Long Island mansion. But when Jimmy, his wife in waiting and her protesting family show up at the door for the wedding, Billie and her fellow bootleggers are forced to hide out as servants, causing a whole load of tomfoolery and nonsense.
From the get go there is an absolute sense of control apparent on stage, instantaneously allowing the audience to simply sit back and immerse themselves within the timeless world being presented to them. Although encompassed within a restrictive intimate space, both director John Plews and choreographer Grant Murphy have intertwined their talents to present an intelligent use of the space available. Murphy, who has previously choreographed three productions for Ovation, showcases a wonderful display of classic dance genres worthy of any Strictly Come Dancing fan, allowing each member of the cast to shine within elaborate tap numbers and pleasant duets. At times during full ensemble numbers the stage and movement did feel quite restricted and compromised due to the space available, perhaps this could have been adapted to feature less bodies or a different approach to the space. None the less, each routine was an absolute celebration and endearing nod to the era.
Having recently starred is the title role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson was an absolute stand out with her beautifully controlled vocals, vulnerability and comedic timing. Which when combined with the velvet tones and ease of Alistair So, coming straight off his summer run as Cover Lun in The King and I (London Palladium) creates nothing short of a perfectly matched duo. However, the main comedy comes thick and fast through David Pendlebury (Cookie McGee). There is no question why he has returned to The Gatehouse, delivering each one liner and zinger with ease. Credit must also be given to fresh graduates Abigail Earnshaw (Jeannie Muldoon), Kirsten Mackie (Rosie) and Grace McInerny (Dottie / Millicent) each of whom provide a wonderful energy on stage throughout. And they weren’t alone! With Fraser Fraser (Duke Mahoney), Adam Crossley (Elliott/Ensemble/Dance Captain) and Harry Cooper-Millar (Chief Berry) also contributing brilliantly throughout.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable festive treat and well worthy of a four star rating. With the entire cast, crew and creatives working cohesively, Ovation have managed to create a captivating production for the debut of Nice Work If You Can Get It here in London’s West End. I would be interested to see what the creative team at Ovation would be able to do with this production with a larger space, cast and budget.
View the original review at Pocket Size Theatre
William Russell, Reviewsgate
This pastiche Gershwin musical – Joe Dipetro has used their 1926 musical Oh Kay for his inspiration – was a modest Broadway success some years back, winning a couple of Tony awards, but the expected London transfer never happened. Now it is getting its UK premiere in a scintillating production directed by John Plews with some dazzling choreography by Grant Murphy which taxes the 12 strong cast to the limits. They rise to the challenge.Read More
It is basically a back catalogue show but the musicals of that era were comic plots with songs and dances and the selection of Gershwin songs fit in perfectly. The plot is silly, and occasionally does not quite hit the right twenties note, but when it does it is inspired. DiPietro gets it dead right in the closing scenes when joke follows joke.
In a New York night club the bootleggers – this is the prohibition era – are stuck with a lorry load of booze and the Feds on the doorstep. Their leader, Billie Bendix (Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson, a powerhouse of a player) meets Jimmy Winter (Alistair So, who has all the necessary qualities of being handsome, possessing a decent voice and the ability to hoof it in the manner of Astaire required of the leading man), a filthy rich young man on his fourth marriage. Naturally it is love at first sight. He reveals he owns a Long Island beach house which he never visits, so Billie gets her fellow mobsters to take the stuff there and stash it in the cellar.
After that, inevitably, Jimmy turns up pursued by current fiancé, future father in law – an upright Republican senator – his sister, a ferocious widow who campaigns against drink, as well as the police and mayhem ensues as the bootleggers cope hopelessly with pretending to be the staff of the house. It is skilfully crafted, as were the originals, and passes the time pleasantly as a tale. But the songs are the thing, and they range from the title number but way of Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, Fascinating Rhythm and I’ve Got a Crush On You to Someone to Watch Over Me. They also include the famous Gertrude Lawrence number, Do It again, which is nicely naughty, to the less well known Will You Remember Me?
The dancing starts off on a high in the night club with the dancers in gorgeous gold costumes and just gets better. The entire cast have been drilled to what looks like perfection and some of the footwork is as ferocious and ankle bruising dangerous as anything in tango.
So and Nelson are delightful lovers, Nova Skipp does a barnstorming turn as the teetotal lady given some intoxicating lemonade, which released her inhibitions, David Pendlebury as Cookie, the obligatory wise cracking bootlegger is very funny and Fraser Fraser as the equally obligatory not all there nice sidekick, also a bootlegger, exudes the necessary charm. They are all stock characters but that is the point – they were expected in shows like the Gershwin’s twenties musicals and played by actors the audience wanted to see doing what they did best once again. The verdict on this is that it is one of the best Gatehouse Christmas shows, s’wonderful, s’marvellous and danced divinely.
There is also a very good, six piece band.
View the original review at Reviewsgate
Jonathan Evans, The Spy in the Stalls
Although it premiered on Broadway as late as 2012, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” has the authentic feel of a 1920s musical. Joe DiPietro’s book connects wholeheartedly with the whimsical humour of that bygone era, capturing the spirit of the roaring twenties. In essence this is a ‘Juke Box’ musical threading together a greatest hits package of the Gershwin Brothers catalogue, but unlike many contemporary counterparts, this show has a stamp of originality that makes it feel like the songs were written especially for this show. It is very loosely based on the early Gershwin musical “Oh, Kay!” written by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse. The connection is tenuous, but DiPietro has captured the spirit with a cocktail of screwball comedy, oddball characters and jazz. It is a fizzy cocktail indeed, with bubbles that tickle you and fill you with a feel-good warmth at the same time.Read More
That this is the UK premiere is a real coup for John and Katie Plews, the producers that have brought the show to the Gatehouse, and they have assembled a magnificent team who bring this show truly to life. A six-piece band do perfect justice to Gershwin’s inimitable score, while a twelve strong cast of ‘triple-threats’ gives the feel of a West End show; even if, at times, the space does feel somewhat overcrowded. But hats off to Grant Murphy, whose choreography packs every version of the Charleston onto a dance floor that could barely accommodate a swinging cat, let alone the full, swinging routines devised for the show.
At the height of prohibition, fast-living playboy Jimmy Winter finds himself intertwined in the escapades of various bootleggers, chorus girls and politicians. On the eve of his fourth marriage to the “finest interpreter of modern dance in the world” he unexpectedly falls for female bootlegger Billie Bendix who stashes a shipment of moonshine in his plush Long Island beach house. (It’s nice to see this timely twist: she becomes the tough guy while he is the ‘damsel’ in distress). Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson shines as the hard-edged yet flirtatious Billie who conceals a vulnerability beneath the devil-may-care exterior. A contrast all the more underlined whenever she breaks into song with her rich mezzo-soprano. Alistair So’s Jimmy handles the girl who gives as much as she gets in a mischievously nuanced performance with definite nods to Fred Astaire.
But this isn’t a show that boasts any leads as such. An ensemble piece, each performer plays a vital role (often more than one), from the wild flappers and chorus girls to the over-zealous vice squad, the politicians and the matriarchs. It is a real mixed bag but somehow everyone manages to find their perfect match. Love blossoms in the most unexpected places; particularly between Billie’s fellow bootlegger, Cookie McGee (a wonderful David Pendelbury) and the temperate Duchess Estonia Dulworth who knocks back the hooch: a show stealing performance from Nova Skipp.
The show’s denouement is almost Shakespearean as the couples come together and mistaken identities are revealed and rectified. It is positively uplifting; but the sense of joy we come away with has undoubtedly been roused by the music. The show is littered with so many of the Gershwin’s best tunes from their other musicals; “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”, “‘S Wonderful”, “I’ve Got A Crush On You”… the list goes on and on. But the genius lies, as I have said, in the fact that the story fits so well to the tunes, a marriage made in heaven, consummated by the sheer skill of an all singing, all dancing cast.
One minor complaint. If the space occasionally feels too small for the actors; that is only because this is crying out to be put on a much larger stage. And it deserves it. This production looks likely to be a sell out, so: nice work if you can get a ticket.
View the original review at The Spy In The Stalls
Howard Loxton, The British Theatre Guide
This is the UK première of a musical that ran on Broadway in 2012-13 that fits Gershwin songs into a book that borrows some of its plot from that by Bolton and Wodehouse for the early Gershwin Oh Kay! but it is no ordinary jukebox musical. It’s a frothy concoction in the crazy spirit of the jazz age: there’s even a number in an actual bath overflowing with bubbles!Read More
It’s 1927, Prohibition time, and bootleggers have just delivered to the Manhattan house where rich playboy Jimmy Winter is having a party before marrying his fourth wife, Eileen Evergreen. A change from her chorus girl predecessors, she’s self-styled “the world’s finest interpreter of modern dance”. There is a problem: the customer has only take 2 crates of gin. Where are they going to stash the other 400 they’ve got on their boat?
When tipsy Jimmy discovers that, beneath her cap, trousered bootlegger Billie is a girl, there is a little flirtation in which he mentions he also has a huge, never-used beach house on Long Island. She steals his wallet to get the address and the problem is solved.
In the next scene, they’ve moved their stock in there. But nothing is so simple. The law is on their track and then Jimmy turns up with his new bride followed later by his mother and her father. With bootleggers passing themselves off as house staff, however incompetently, and police popping up, there is plenty of mayhem. Meanwhile, Jimmy, who is only getting married again because his mother threatens to cut off his money if he doesn’t settle down with someone respectable, is getting more enamoured with Billie and she with him.
John Plews’s production sparkles as much as Nadine Froehlich’s jazz-age costumes for the glittery chorus girls who could have climbed down from a Christmas tree. The eye contact between Alistair So’s Jimmy and Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson as Billie is electric and they make a great song and dance duo in a pairing that reverses the usual boy rescues girl.
With more than twenty Gershwin songs and Grant Murphy’s energetic choreography, with its Charlestons, tap routines and twirling dancers excitingly up close, this is a show that truly hits the top note. Its zany plot is cleverly constructed so that the numbers seem to have been written for it, sometimes rather surprisingly: old favourite “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” finds a place fooling the cops as an alibi. It misses the chance to properly satirise 1920s modern dance as Eileen Evergreen shows off but otherwise hits the mark.
With David Pendlebury as bootlegger boss turned butler, Charlotte Scally rising above the bubbles as Eileen Evergreen, Harry Cooper-Millar putting on a front as Police Chief Berry, Fraser Fraser as fellow bootlegger Duke and Abigail Earnshaw as the chorus girl that he falls for, it’s a strong team. Adam Crossley may look the heavy as tough cop or bootlegger but is a fleet-footed dance captain, Nova Skipp hits the operatic high notes as prohibitionist Estonia Duckworth, getting delightfully drunk on spiked lemonade, Stuart Simon as Eileen’s father is a senator with a past and Grace McInerny is Jimmy’s elegant mother who has her own secrets.
Stir all this together with lashings of top Gershwin numbers and you get a lighthearted romp that makes a great Christmas outing.
View the original review at British Theatre Guide
Richard Osley, Camden New Journal
THE love, care and attention that shines through the Christmas musical at the Upstairs At The Gatehouse pretty much guarantees you a winning ticket at this time of year.
With Nice Work If You Can Get It, escapism hangs around the sounds of George and Ira Gershwin, with the in-house team reaching for even higher heights.
This is one of their best yet, West End quality viewed up so close in this theatre you can see the whites of the actors’ eyes and hear the click of their Charleston-dancing feet. Don’t say you weren’t warned if it sells out fast.Read More
But it is by no means a one-woman show, as a quick stab at explaining how Billie and Jimmy end up lovetorn should suggest: she steals his wallet but falls in love with him – but he’s due to be married to someone else, the daughter of a senator who is trying to win votes by rooting out the bootleggers. Billie, whaddayaknow?, just happens to be storing her black market liquor in the cellar of the mansion she thought Jimmy never used but, naturally, he suddenly seems to use a lot. We could go on but it keeps spinning on. The skill is not to fall into basic, saw-that-coming slapstick; the rich fun more often comes from some carefully schemed and surprising musical set pieces such as Billie’s awkward seduction for Treat Me Rough and the bubble-pumping stagecraft of Delishious.
By the end of a breathless evening, you are wondering why nobody has done the show in this country before. For while the title number Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off and Someone To Watch Over Me are familiar songs, Nice Work is getting its UK premiere having never quite made the switch from Broadway in 2012 to London. It’s a clever bit of scouting by theatre managers John and Katie Plews; a standing ovation ensued on press night. Five stars for sure.
View the original review at Camden New Journal