Nice Work If You Can Get It, and You Can Get it at Cockpit in Court!

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

Chances are, somewhere in your life you’ve at least hear a George and Ira Gershwin tune, whether in a movie, a wedding, a gathering of some kind, or you may have even had a chance to experience an actual Gershwin show. Cockpit in Court’s latest offering, Nice Work if You Can Get It, with Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gerswhin, a Book by Joe DiPietro, and Inspired by Material by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse, is a jukebox musical, of sorts, of songs by the Gershwin brothers and sets it in a cute, funny story of a bygone era. Under the charge of Director Eric J. Potter, Music Director Gerald Smith, and Choreographer Ilona Kessell, this is a production that takes you away for awhile and adds a little pizzazz to the everyday grind.

According to Broadway.com “Set in the 1920s, Nice Work If You Can Get It is the story of charming and wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter, who meets rough female bootlegger Billie Bendix the weekend of his wedding. Jimmy, who has been married three (or is it four?) times before, is preparing to marry Eileen Evergreen, a self-obsessed modern dancer. Thinking Jimmy and Eileen will be out of town, Billie and her gang hid cases of alcohol [in] the basement of Jimmy’s Long Island mansion. But when Jimmy, his wife-to-be, and her prohibitionist family show up at the mansion for the wedding, Billie and her cohorts pose as servants, causing hijinks galore.”

Lizzy Pease and J. Bradley Bowers. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Costume Design by Tracy Bird of Stage Garb, Inc. is on point with this production. Set in the decadence of the 1920s, Bird has hit the nail on the head with all of the fashions and her attention to detail. Her efforts transport the audience to this fashionable era with every gown and pinstriped suit that graces the stage and she is to be applauded and revered for her precise and well thought-out design.

Michael Raskinski’s Set Design, too, is beyond praise-worthy. With clever set pieces that fly in and out easily and quickly, the pacing is kept on point and the Art Deco style that Rasinski has chosen adds immense value to the production as a whole. The entire design from set pieces to the simple, but detailed proscenium façade, this design is top notch and Rasinski is to be commended for his well planned efforts.

A particular highlight of this production is, indeed, Choreography by Ilona Kessell. It is high-energy and engaging and this ensemble has the ability to pull it off. I am quite impressed with the precision in which Kessell’s fun and well-rehearsed choreography is executed. Kessell knows her cast and their abilities, which is probably the most important aspect of a Choreographer’s job, and her routines are filled with variety and traditional styles that keep the audience interested. Kudos to Kessell for this superb choreography.

Many, if not all of these Gershwin tunes are familiar to most, and Music Direction by Gerald Smith is splendid as this cast manages to breathe fresh life into each number. Harmonies are spot on and featured numbers emit the dynamics and emotions that the Gershwins intended. This production has also managed to round up a very impressive pit orchestra consisting of Tim Viets (Conductor), Michael DeVito (Keyboard 1), Michael Clark (Keyboard 2), Dieter Schodde (Percussion), Steve Haaser and Helen Schlaich (Reeds), Jay Ellis (Trombone), Tony Neenan and Ginger Turner (Trumpet), Matthew DeBeal (Violin), and Bob DeLisle (Bass).

The book for this piece is light and fluffy, and is, in a word, trite, but that’s to be expected with jukebox musicals, right? Maybe not, but this one is. Crazy For You, the other Gershwin musical, has a meatier book, and probably got dibs on most of the best George and Ira Gershwin songs, but this piece is not without it’s merits. The thing that helps this production Direction by Eric J. Potter and he really has a good grasp on this material. It’s an old-fashioned song-and-dance type show, happy ending and all that, but Potter has taken these songs and this book and weaved them into a well put-together, polished production with near perfect pacing and character work that is superb. Under his charge, the classic music is given a fresh coat of paint and it shines bright making for an entertaining, energetic evening of good theatre. Snaps to Potter for a job quite well done.

I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that this production of Nice Work If You Can Get It has an absolutely phenomenal Ensemble consisting of Mary Margaret McClurg, Olivia Aubele, Angela Boeren (Dance Captain), Sarah Jones, Emily Machovec, Rachel Verhaaren, J. Purnell Hargrove (Dance Captain), Ryan Christopher Holmes, Conner Kiss, Shane Lowry, and Josh Schoff. These folks dance and sing their way across this stage effortlessly, will grab you from the moment the curtain goes up, and bring you into the performance with them. Hands down, one of the best and able ensembles I’ve seen in community theatre in a good while. Kudos to all for their hard work and excellent abilities.

J. Bradley Bowers and Lynn Tallman. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Taking on the role of the seemingly bumbling, sensitive Chief Berry is Thomas “Toby” Hessenauer and he does quite well with the role, even if his accent or lack of accent is noticeable. Actually, I’m not sure if he was going for an accent or not, but one seems to be trying to peek out once in awhile, but I might be hearing things. Regardless, Hessenauer is a wonderful actor and understands this comical character and pulls him off nicely. Vocally, Hessenauer is not a powerhouse in this particular production, but he does hold his own and brings comedy into familiar numbers such as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” In the same boat is Lynn Tallman as Eileen Evergreen, the snooty, oblivious fiancé who needs to be put in her place. Evergreen has a good grasp on what her character is about and portrays her beautifully. Again, the attempted accent, if that’s what it can be called, may hinder her witty dialogue, at times, but overall, she gives an admirable performance. She certainly makes you take notice with her charming featured number “Delichious,” on which she gives a strong delivery.

Patrick Martyn and Jane E. Brown. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Taking on the more non-savory characters in this story are Patrick Martyn as Cookie McGee, Gary Dieter as Duke Mahoney, and Casey Lane as Jeannie Muldoon. First off, these folks couldn’t have been cast better. Martyn and Dieter completely embody their characters and I believed them from the moment they stepped onto the stage. Both play the somewhat bumbling criminals well, with impeccable comedic timing, and had me laughing out loud throughout their performances. Lane, too, as the gold-digging, deceived young woman, is natural in this role and makes this supporting character something to take notice of. Dieter is definitely the stronger vocalist, shining in his humorous featured number, “Blah, Blah, Blah,” and Lane does very well, also, in the reprise of the same song and in the adorable “Do It Again.” Martyn, though not as strong, vocally, does give heartfelt and confident in his featured “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “Looking for a Boy.”

Highlights in this production are, hands down, John Amato as Senator Max Evergreen, the staunch, uptight father of the fiancé, Jane E. Brown as Duchess Estonia Dulworth, the self-righteous anti-liquor crusader, and Joan Crooks as Millicent Winter, the strong, confident mother of the leading man. As with the rest of this cast, these folks were cast perfectly in their roles. Amato exudes the rigidness this straight-man character needs, but his comedic timing is superb, getting befuddled when needed and trying to take charge of the situation. His booming, smooth voice just adds to this character and his natural delivery is like butter. In tandem with Amato’s performance, Brown’s portrayal of Duchess Estonia Dulworth is absolutely and completely on point. She has embodied this character and has made it her own. Her strong stage presence and thoughtful, though seemingly effortless portrayal of this character is make her one to watch in this production. Not only does she have the staunchness down, her comedic timing is just as wonderful. Vocally, Brown is a powerhouse and one can help but notice her powerful technique and know-how in her featured number, “Demon Rum” (with impeccable and superb back up from the ensemble), and the side-splitting “Looking for a Boy.” In the like, Crooks, who only shows up toward the end of the piece, makes her short time on stage well worth it. She, too, embodies this character of Millicent and takes charge of the stage from the moment she steps onto it. This trio of which I call the “previous generation” of this story, is well-cast, and well performed and I can’t give enough kudos to Amato, Brown, and Crooks.

J. Bradley Bowers and Lizzy Pease. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Rounding out this praise-worthy ensemble are standouts Lizzy Pease as Billie Bendix and J. Bradley Bowers as Jimmy Winter. It’s easy to see both of these actors are disciplined and hard working as it shows in their portrayal of these young lovers that carry the show. Pease knows her character well and portrays her with just the right balance of roughness and tenderness. Again, the story is fluffy, but Pease makes the most of her character and glides through her performance naturally, with a distinct delivery and ease. She comfortable on stage and gives a strong showing. Vocally, she’s top notch with a voice that soars throughout the theatre, especially in her featured numbers, the poignant “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and the cutesy duet, “S’wonderful.” Overall, her performance is grade-A and should not be missed.

In the same vein, Bowers knocks it completely out of the ball park into the next town in his performance. Completely at ease in this character and a definite knowledge of the stage, his performance leaves me wanting more. He’s not simply going through the motions of the script, but becomes this person, Jimmy Winter, and his performance alone is worth the price of admission. His natural talent, strong stage presence, and confidence drives his performance and he’s a fun to watch. He’s what folks might call a triple-threat… he can act, he can sing, and boy he dance. Who could ask for anything more? (See what I did there?) Vocally, Bowers is phenomenal with a smooth, silky baritone, with a great range that makes listening to all his numbers a joy, especially his renditions of “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” “I’ve Got to Be There,” “I Do, Do, Do” (with absolutely perfect backup and harmony from the gentlemen in the ensemble), and the aforementioned duet, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” I’m looking forward to seeing more stage work from Mr. Bowers in the future.

Final thought… Nice Work if You Can Get It is a high-energy, old-fashioned song-and-dance kind of show that will have you tapping your toes, feeling nostalgic, and take you a allow you to escape for just a couple of hours, at least. Casting is spot on, Set Design is brilliant, Choreography is engaging, and the talent and abilities of the entire ensemble are top notch. The production is polished and fun for the entire family. Though, the story and script can be a bit trite and fluffy, it’s still a fun piece with good message. Whether your familiar with the work of the Gershwins or not, you’ll be thoroughly entertained and humming as you leave the theatre.

This is what I thought of Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s production of Nice Work if You Can Get It… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Nice Work if You Can Get It will run through August 4 at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, F. Scott Black Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: Big Fish at Silhouette Stages

By Yosef Kuperman

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one Intermission.

If you’ve ever wanted to be someone you’re not or wanted to do things you think you can’t do, usually, you make up big beautiful stories in your head, to help you, to get you by, or just to take yourself away for just awhile. In Silhouette Stages latest offering, Big Fish, with Book by John August and Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa, Directed by TJ Lukacsina, with Music Direction by Michael Tan, and Choreography by Rikki Lacewell – this is exactly the case. This 2013 Broadway musical adaptation of a 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace and 2003 film of the same name.

Don’t be put off by this being an adaption. You don’t need to know the Big Fish movie or novel to get this show and still enjoy it. I think I saw the movie once, but can’t remember anything besides the name. I hadn’t realized a book existed until I Googled it, but that didn’t matter. John August and Andrew Lippa did their job so well that you don’t need to be familiar with the source material.

(l-r) Christa Kronser, Missy Spangler, Samuel Greenslit, John Machovec, Luis Matty Montes, Drew Sharpe, Emily Machovec, Emily Alvarado, Emily Mudd. Credit: JOhn Cholod

Briefly, Big Fish concerns itself with Edward Bloom, who is a dying old man who tells improbable self-aggrandizing comical stories to his son, Will Bloom. Will finds this habit aggravating as his is a reporter interested in the historic truth and what actually happened. He responds to his father’s fatal diagnosis by digging into his father’s past, looking for historic truth amid the lies. He eventually discovers his dad has anti-skeletons in his closet including the fact he helped his neighbors rebuild after a flood. This leads him to accept his dad’s use of exaggeration and story telling to avoid talking about painful subjects.

This story is a good drama. You feel the conflict between father and son, the bitterness it causes, and the catharsis.

Emily Mudd, Luis Matty Montes. Credit: John Cholod

Putting it on the table, I’m a brand new reviewer, trying something new. I just see a lot of shows so I figured I’d try my hand at reviewing. I don’t play an instrument, build sets, or act. I just watch lots of plays. So umm… The Set Design by Alex Porter looked cool and the live orchestra and cast sounded great. The performers sang and moved well, including Luis Montes as Edward Bloom, Michael Nugent as Will Bloom, and Emily Mudd as Sandra Bloom, the little dysfunctional family. Nothing broke, the lights came on when they were supposed to, so, when all is said and done, the production value is top notch, but I love theater for the story telling, so I’ll focus on that.

Big Fish balances between being funny and being serious and, in the process, it tells a story about the power and purpose of the stories people tell about themselves.

(l-r) Luis Matty Montes, Samuel Greenslit. Credit: John Cholod

As the story of Big Fish progresses, Will finds a series of stories Edward tells about himself. These are exaggerated tall tales are funny, nonsensical, and increasingly fictional and are presented to the audience in scenes and musical numbers. For instance, Edward says he learns of his demise from a Witch (Emily Alvarado), takes up with a giant named Karl (Nick Rose), learns how to swim from a mermaid (Emily Mahovec), discovers his circus boss, Amos (Richard Greenslit) is a werewolf, and gets shot out of a cannon, among other situations.

These stories are good comedy. They’re feel good, funny, and well delivered and they blend in smoothly with the frame story’s heavier material.

For its conclusion, Big Fish ties the stories together and, finally, Will discovers the truth. His father is hiding a disappointed former sweetheart, Jenny Hill (Christa Kronser). He makes peace with his father’s casual approach to historic fact. We assume the tall tales are false. Then Karl the Giant shows up at the funeral. So what if anything was true?

Big Fish asks, “Who cares what the actual truth is?” Big Fish asks. The now enlightened Will embraces exaggeration, tall tales, and myth as modes of communication. The historic truth is no longer the only truth he cares about.

(l-r) Emily Machovec, Christa Kronser, Emily Alvarado, Luis Matty Montes, Grace La Count. Credit: John Cholod

However, there’s another story that Silhouette Stages could have told and didn’t – a dark reflection of the cheerful and upbeat production they actually staged. One might also see Big Fish as a story about the alluring power of fake news. Here’s another equally true reading:

Edward Bloom has a reckless disregard for historic facts. He tells so many tall tales that maybe he doesn’t know or remember the “real truth”. He definitely doesn’t care and he just tells the story that matters to him. His son, a reporter, finds this infuriating. When Edward gets his fatal diagnosis, Will’s investigative reporting leads him to a witness, Jenny Hill, Edward’s allegedly jilted high school sweetheart. Jenny tells Will about how awesome his lying father really is.

Well… does Jenny tell the son the historic truth? Her story sounds like fake news. Did Edward really buy his high school sweetheart a house to sooth her broken heart? Oh, come on! Will suspects an affair and that sounds way more probable than the Jenny’s version. She even suggests she doesn’t want to ruin Will’s image of his father before telling him a transparent whopper.

(l-r) Michael Nugent, Missy Spangler, Emily Mudd, Luis Matty Montes. Credit: John Cholod

But Will accepts the tall-tale about how his dad magically moved a town without anyone posting it on the internet (Will’s smartphone actually gets used a few times as a prop and he’s got Google installed). Why? Because Will realizes that the lies let everyone get along better. He could confront his dying father and his grieving mother with the affair. But why? The truth will make everyone miserable, not free. So he says nothing and humors his dying father, like a normal well-adjusted human. The story then shows us that Edward Bloom really had a very big friend named Karl. Fact and fiction have blended and the audience can no longer tell the true story from the tall tales,  or fact from fiction. In the final scene, we see the reporter son has abandoned his dream of teaching his son to crave and search for truth and instead embraces telling tall tales to keep people happy. That’s #2018 for you.

(l-r) Richard Greenslit, Emily Machovec, Emily Mudd, Grace La Count. Credit: John Cholod

Now, Silhouette Stages and TJ Lukacsina didn’t go there and, considering the production’s superb, I’ll write that down as a good call! But you can see this darker story peaking out over the wooden stage fencing around the live orchestra’s box on stage.

Regardless of how you see this story, if you’re familiar with it or not, Silhouette Stages has put together an entertaining, well produced production that shouldn’t be missed this season! You won’t be disappointed!

Big Fish will run through May 27 at Silhouette Stages, Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.

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