Nice Work If You Can Get It
- By gentleguide
- On Fri 09 nov 2018
The magical tunes of George and Ira Gershwin have been staples for years, but it was only in the last decade that they’ve been brought together as the framework for the Broadway musical Nice Work If You Can Get It. Drake produces their fall semester extravaganza beginning next weekend, featuring song and dance galore, and laughs that never go out of style.
The story centers around ne’er-do-well playboy Jimmy Winter (played by Andrew Hatfield). He’s about to get married for the third time (or is it the fourth?) He runs into Billie (Brittany Mendoza-Pena), one of a group of bootleggers trying to figure out where to hide their considerable stash of liquor. She and her partner Cookie (Connor Ripperger) decide to take advantage of Jimmy’s beach house to hide their booze, without his knowledge.
What follows is a plethora of mistaken identities, drunken confessions, unlikely romances, and lots of beautiful Gershwin music. The cast has been working for a couple of months on the amazing dance numbers, and each of the romantic leads has significant experience in this department.
“I’ve been dancing since I was about 14,” says Hatfield, “taking everything from ballet to hip-hop. The show is heavily built around jazz and an lot of steps that were popular at the time. It’s very reminiscent of a Golden Age musical, so I try and use Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire as models for Jimmy’s way of dancing.”
“I have trained in ballet, tap, contemporary, and hip-hop since I was very young,” adds Mendoza-Pena. “Dance is such a huge part of my life as a performer, and I think being well-versed in various styles allows for me to be adaptable. During the musical number S’Wonderful Billie gets to have her Ginger Rogers moment, and just go bonkers! It’s delicious and hard, but such a fun number in the show!”
Ripperger has his dance moments as well, but he shines as the comedic relief in the show. “I haven’t always been cast as the funny guy, even in comedies. I have been typically cast as the sort of dry comedy character, so in this one I get to be really over the top with bits and in-your-face comedy stuff. Even though we seem at first like the bad guys lying, you soon realize we are in the same boat as Jimmy and you come to love all three of us.”
Of course, Ira and George Gershwin wrote all this classic music long before these college students were even born. But that doesn’t mean the performers weren’t familiar with the songs and styles involved in Nice Work.
“I had seen it performed on the Tony Awards and at the International Thespian Festival,” says Ripperger. I got to do the opening of the show and one of the Broadway professionals we got to perform with was Kristen Beth Williams, who was actually in the ensemble of the original production. I feel like this show is really well put together. It feels like a totally original show and it doesn’t have the issue that a lot of jukebox musicals have, which is that the script just feels like it is forcing its way to a song. This just flows really well.”
Mendoza-Pena enjoys the time-tested music presented here. “The jazz standards used in this show are definitely beloved, however I don’t think audience members are worse off if they aren’’t familiar with the music. I think the music is unlike anything being put out any the moment, so it will be a unique experience but every audience member is on an equal footing!”
“I really didn’t know the show all that well, but I did know the music,” admits Hatfield. “I’m a big fan of some of the other musicals that have Gershwin music in them, like An American in Paris and Crazy for You. The songs actually fit seamlessly into the show, and it’s easy to motivate them as the story progresses.”
Gotta Love It!
Each of the performers has found their own moment, their own special part to cherish about Nice Work. And much of it has been connected to the choreography in the dance-heavy show. “The dance is the biggest challenge for me,” continues Hatfield. “I find expressing myself through dance to be the most fulfilling, and director Erin Horst’s choreography makes it so easy to do that. I was very surprised by the more tender moments in the show. It’s a very comedic show, but the moments that are more intimate impacted me in a way I didn’t expect.”
Ripperger has found himself learning through the show. “Erin has really kind of just thrown me in the deep end. Our first rehearsal was the big act one finale, and it is all tap which I have never done before. So I’m learning the choreography as well as trying to learn the basic moves and terminology, so this is a really fun challenge. I think my lack of training has kind of taught me how to pick up different styles and areas of dance quickly, which is helping a lot with the tap.”
Mendoza-Pena is taking the opposite tack, since she’s already experienced at the dance part of the equation. “I think the opportunity at a comedy is always wonderful! I love being on the audience side of comedy, so to be a part of that magic is just a treat. The most exciting part about this show is to see so many of my peers in their element, and relishing the opportunity to dig into jazz music and play quirky characters. I was very surprised at my adaptability through this show. Many of my close friends will tell you that I’m far from the ‘hardcore tom-boy’, so getting to step into Billie’s shoes is a great challenge for me.”
Whether it’s for the song, the dance, or the comedy, everyone will find their own reason to love Nice Work If You Can Get It. There are 4 performances on the mainstage at the Harmon Fine Arts building on the Drake Campus. Tickets are available now at the Fine Arts Box Office or at their online website. Start tapping your feet and enjoy the style!!