Tag Archives: John Plews

Nice Work If You Can Get It
★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 14th December 2018

★★★★

“It is a fizzy cocktail indeed, with bubbles that tickle you and fill you with a feel-good warmth at the same time”

 


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.

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 – occasionally the band are too loud for the voices. And 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.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell

 

Upstairs At The Gatehouse - Home

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 27th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Night at The Oscars | ★★★★ | February 2018
After the Ball | ★★★ | March 2018
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018

 

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Return to the Forbidden Planet – 3 Stars

Planet

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 16th May 2018

★★★

“undeniably great fun, supported by consistently strong performances”

 

The Intergalactic Starship Albatross, with Captain Tempest at its helm, is on a standard interplanetary scientific survey mission, when it is pulled onto a planet not even marked on their cosmic charts. Here they find Doctor Prospero and his daughter Miranda, and discover Prospero’s secret formula for telegenesis, a dangerous invention that aims to be able to create matter from brain power alone. So ensues a cult tale of love, trickery, deception and monsters.

The musical by Bob Carlton, which won the 1990 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, is a well crafted mixture of fifties and sixties pop anthems and Shakespearean text. The musical is loosely based on the 1950s film ‘Forbidden Planet’, which was based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ but the piece borrows lines from across Shakespeare’s oeuvre: “Two beeps or not two beeps, that is the question” was a particular favourite with the audience. The word play is intelligent and witty, and we don’t lose a syllable of it thanks to the cast’s clear and lively delivery.

The actor-musician cast is consistently strong all round, deftly switching from vocals to saxophones and trumpets, led by musical director Rhiannon Hopkins. Simon Oskarsson’s fantastic robot on roller skates Ariel, is the standout performance of the production, a detailed and committed characterisation full of energy, playfulness and wit. The evil Gloria played by Ellie Ann Lowe is also particularly strong – slick, fierce and effortless, something which other members of the cast could learn from as there are a few too many moments where it is clear how hard this cast are working. Certainly playing instruments, singing, dancing and acting is no easy feat, but the cast need to make it look easy, something I’m sure they will achieve as they settle into the run. In fact there isn’t a weak link across the cast in terms of talent, though at times certain performances could be a little more streamlined, the brilliant energy levels just a little more focused.

A few things need ironing out – there’s the odd technical issue and clumsy musical moment but the audience is so onside that these moments are utterly forgivable. The production is brimming with wit and silliness, no desire to take itself too seriously, something which is echoed in the design – neon blue space suits and yellow and purple set designed by Amy Yardley.

This production is undeniably great fun, supported by consistently strong performances, and you will be sure to leave with a smile on your face.

 

Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Darren Bell

 


Return to the Forbidden Planet

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 17th June

 

 

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