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Nice Work If You Can Get It (Susan Elkin reviews)

Nice Work If You Can Get It – ★★★★
Music & Lyrics by GEORGE & IRA GERSHWIN. Book by JOE DIPIETRO. Inspired by material by GUY BOLTON & PG WODEHOUSE. Produced by Ovation.
society/company: Upstairs at the Gatehouse
performance date: 21 Dec 2018
venue: Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London


It’s a real pleasure to hear and see a vehicle for so many irrepressibly melodious Gershwin numbers in a package as entertaining as Joe Dipietro’s book. First staged in New York in 2010, Nice Work If You Can Get It is now having its first run in Britain. And the show is a real credit to John Plews and his Upstairs at the Gatehouse colleagues.

A complicated and wonderfully implausible plot takes us to New York during Prohibition. Three bootleggers infiltrate, and hide a lot of booze in, the Long Island home of a rich playboy. Unlikely attractions, liaisons and revelations ensue and we end up with a nice bit of Mozartian “suo padre” stuff and a happy outcome.

Three quarters of successful theatre is casting and this cast of twelve has been very skilfully chosen, each and every one of them strong, sparky and adept at working together. We also get some impressive dance routines. Quite an achievement too to get twelve dancers going full tilt in the Gatehouse’s limited traverse space without any member of the audience getting kicked.

Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson shines as Billie, variously wistful, assertive, rueful, angry, distressed and more. And she sings with warmth, passion, clarity and impeccable intonation. Alistair So as Jimmy, partners her with convinging charisma after a slightly shaky start in which he was overpowered by Chris Poon’s otherwise excellent five piece band positioned in a gallery above the space at one end.

There is also a well sustained performance from Charlotte Scally as the empty-headed, high octane Eileen and Nora Skipp brings dignity, determination and, eventually, humanising hilarity to Estonia. Yes, this really is a fine cast.

Moreover, the piece is very funny and these actors know exactly how to time the lines to maximise the impact. My favourite moment is one female character accusing a male one of making love on a beach. “I’ve never made love on a beach” he declares hotly. “That’s true but you tried” she shoots back.

Catch this one if you can. It’s zippy, good fun and you’ll come away with your head full of Gershwin.

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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