At OU, play’s cast does ‘Nice Work’

The Oklahoman - - LIFE & STYLE - — Anna Hol­loway, for The Oklahoman

NOR­MAN — In 2012, Joe DiPi­etro opened “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” an adap­ta­tion of a 1926 mu­si­cal with songs by the Gersh­win boys and a story adapted from a French farce by Guy Bolton and P.G.Wode­house. DiPi­etro added more Gersh­win songs and in­stru­men­tal el­e­ments and re-framed the story for con­tem­po­rary au­di­ences. The re­sult is on stage at the Univer­sity of Oklahoma, and it’s de­light­ful fun.

Set in New York City in 1927 — the heart of Pro­hi­bi­tion — the show fea­tures a boot­leg­ger who falls for a rich boy; in the course of the evening, she ef­fec­tively res­cues him from his life of dis­si­pa­tion and gets pro­moted up the chain of com­mand in the boot­leg­ging em­pire. Along the way there are show­girls, pro­hi­bi­tion­ists, vain per­form­ers, slow-wit­ted po­lice­men, pompous judges, smug­glers pos­ing as ser­vants, and a sweet and mod­ern love story.

It is still, at heart, a French farce. Peo­ple are dis­cov­ered in all the wrong places at all the wrong times who none­the­less are just right for each other. Pre­dictably and charm­ingly, every­one even­tu­ally is paired off — after much singing and danc­ing about fun and heart­break.

Di­rec­tor Lyn Cramer’s stylish pro­duc­tion makes wink­ing ref­er­ences to the whole pan­theon of Gersh­win films and plays from the 1930s and 1940s, in­clud­ing sev­eral As­taire/Rogers and Gar­land/Rooney films. Don’t worry — the show is great fun even with no knowl­edge of the pe­riod.

Jokes are pre­dictable, and sit­u­a­tions are tele­graphed three scenes away, but they still are very funny. This is be­cause of Cramer’s thought­ful di­rec­tion and some sharp comic tim­ing.

Thomas Cromer was excellent in the role of weak willed and overly wealthy Jimmy Win­ter. Cromer has an un­usual task: be a lead­ing man who does not lead and can­not be overly manly — but never let him be a wimp. Cromer rises to the oc­ca­sion with del­i­cate skill; his de­liv­ery con­veys the pre­cise level of re­lief or con­fi­dence that Jimmy is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing — and it’s ei­ther funny or mov­ing or both. Cromer also sings beau­ti­fully; his woo­ing of the at­trac­tive boot­leg­ger is both be­liev­able and af­fect­ing.

Ta­tum Lud­lum was a strong and ef­fec­tive Bil­lie Bendix; as the leader of the trio try­ing to hide 400 cases of gin from the po­lice, she was tough with­out be­ing hard and fem­i­nine with­out be­ing soft. Lud­lum de­liv­ered a de­ci­sive and ap­peal­ing Bil­lie, and she sang the an­thems of the show with strength and pas­sion.

Gordie Beingess­ner as Cookie and Pa­trick Nowak as Duke were the other two legs of Bil­lie’s trio, both played with great comic style. Olivia Reid played Eileen Ev­er­green, Jimmy’s self-ador­ing fi­ancee, with just enough warmth to be like­able and re­lat­able, even as one of the main an­tag­o­nists.

Among the other prin­ci­pals, John Tupy played the po­lice of­fi­cer, Chief Berry, with a pas­toral sin­cer­ity that made the “straight man” role love­able, and Katja Yanko played Jimmy’s mother, a lit­eral dea ex machina, with sauce and bounce.

Ash­ley Man­danas as Eileen’s aunt, the axe-wield­ing Duchess Es­to­nia Dul­worth, al­most walked away with the show. Man­danas lent a ma­tu­rity and grav­i­tas to a char­ac­ter whose “dry” fa­cade cracks to re­veal an en­dear­ingly flawed hu­man be­ing. En route, the Duchess flies off in some un­ex­pected di­rec­tions, and Man­danas per­forms the part with ac­ro­batic skill. Her per­for­mance alone would be worth the price of ad­mis­sion.

Cos­tumes, sets, light­ing and sound are beau­ti­ful, and the or­ches­tra is con­ducted by guest con­duc­tor and mu­sic di­rec­tor Jerry Ste­ichen, an Oklahoma na­tive who is an in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected con­duc­tor. His pres­ence in the pit en­sures some very fine per­for­mances of some of the great­est mu­sic writ­ten for the Amer­i­can theater.


Univer­sity of Oklahoma mu­si­cal theater stu­dents Ta­tum Lud­lam, as Bil­lie Bendix, and Thomas Cromer, as Jimmy Win­ter, re­hearse for the mu­si­cal com­edy “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

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