Dallas — The end of summer and start of a new school year might signal to end of fun for some, but just like Texas weather, Dallas Summer Musicals keeps the heat sizzling anyway with their season closer Nice Work If You Can Get It, presented at the Music Hall at Fair Park. This fairly new musical with book by Joe DiPietro features the original music of George and Ira Gershwin arranged by David Chase and is inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse.
We’ve seen a number of these types before as writers attempt to fit a plotline around a single artist’s collection of music—this not even the first show to do this with Gershwin music—but this one stands above the rest. DiPietro and original Broadway director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall stay true to the music by creating an experience very similar to the older style of musicals. David Eggers re-creates the production and choreography for the tour, which launches in Dallas (and then follows for one week in Fort Worth).
It’s the story of booze and romance in 1927 New York. Tough-as-nails female bootlegger Billie Bendix (Mariah MacFarlane) crosses paths with wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter (Alex Enterline) as she attempts to hide a large stash of liquor from the police. The unlikely pair finds themselves drawn to each other, even though Jimmy is recently married. Or so he thought. He can’t seem to keep his nuptials and annulments straight.
Billie and her criminal comrades attempt to lay low, but their chosen hideout—Jimmy’s supposedly empty Long Island beach house—seems to draw much unwanted attention. After a series of mistaken identities, startling revelations, and other manner of hilarious antics, everyone finds their own brand of happiness.
The production is cast exceptionally well. Reed Campbell and Aaron Fried genuinely embody the 1920s East Coast criminal in their portrayals of Billie’s partners. Campbell lends a sharp but frank humor to Cookie McGee, and Fried adds a loveable touch to the oafish and less-than-intelligent Duke Mahoney.
Enterline sails smoothly through his lead role with charisma and charm. Rachel Scarr is perfectly amusing as Jimmy’s new wife, the very vain and pampered Eileen Evergreen, and the self-proclaimed greatest interpreter of modern dance, a character with hints of Isadora Duncan and other early modern dance pioneers.
MacFarlane takes the prize for the best overall performance. As a tomboy trying to make it in the man’s world of bootlegging, she exhibits her own amiable version of femininity. The sweet and wistful “Someone to Watch Over Me” turns into something more than a longing ballad when she sings it holding a shotgun.
Within the first minute of the opening, the show sets itself up as one full of dancing, and that’s no surprise given Marshall’s dancing background. The chorus girls and the Vice Squad (the hired men assisting in prohibitionist activities) do most of the dancing and liven up the stage with the jazzy sequences. Anything that requires more classical technique, however, falls flat. They seem to make it up, though, with their vocals and engaging connection with the audience.
While the show provides hilarious and uplifting moments, the true impact of the performance becomes apparent when people leave the theater. As the band plays the closing number following the curtain call, numerous folk are seen adding a few dance moves to their exits. Even some of the very elderly patrons, who may normally have difficulty navigating the aisles and inclines of the Music Hall, move their feet and shake their hips to the familiar jazzy Gershwin sounds. It’s enough to make one’s heart melt and stands as a testament to the joyous power of theater.