‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ an amiable farce that entertains

Matt Loehr, center, performs the role of Jimmy Winter with the company of “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” produced by Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento.
Matt Loehr, center, performs the role of Jimmy Winter with the company of “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” produced by Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento. Special to The Bee

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” has a bit of greatest hits feel to it, which is, of course, intentional. All of the songs in the Prohibition-era comedy now at the Music Circus come from songwriting giants George and Ira Gershwin, which gives the show a hefty content edge besides its raison d’être.

The popular playwright Joe DiPietro has cobbled together an amiable farce from period sources P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, providing just enough framework for diverse gems from the Gerswhin catalog.

The songs come from across the Gershwins’ early 20th-century career, including the Fred Astaire films “A Damsel In Distress” (1937) and “Shall We Dance” (1937), their Broadway entries “Lady Be Good” (1924), “Girl Crazy” (1930) and “Oh, Kay!” (1926). Beyond the title song, the score includes American Songbook classics “S’Wonderful,” Fascinating Rhythm,” “Someone To Watch Over me” and “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.”

Besides the Gershwin score, there are many special pieces to the production. Choreographer Michael Lichtefeld has a field day with the music’s jazzy syncopation in the music, and the vitality of his dances continually splashes across the stage. Musical director Craig Barna and the orchestra are also in top form, expertly rendering George Gershwin’s supple melodicism and complexity.

The spectacular opening scene set to the snappy “Sweet and Lowdown” evolves from a stark boozy tableaux into a blistering ensemble tap sequence. There are several other song and dance pieces that similarly lift off, even though they don’t necessarily connect much to each other.

Performances are stellar led by Matt Loehr as the well-heeled mama’s boy playboy Jimmy Winter and Kristie Kerwin as the tomboy tough girl bootlegger Billie Bendix. Both are strong-voiced tap-dancing dynamos.

The cast also features standouts Holly Ann Butler as saloon cutie Jeanie Muldoon, Mark Bradley Miller as bootlegger strong man Duke Mahoney, and Rich Hebert (just at B Street in “Clever Little Lies”) as sensitive policeman Chief Berry. The well-known area actress Jamie Jones takes delightful charge in the late stages of the play as Jimmy’s mother Millicent Winter.

However, I could recommend the production on the presence of the droll Michael Kostroff alone. As the bootlegger Cookie McGee who ends up as Jimmy’s butler, Kostroff (television’s ‘The Wire”) is a wonder of reactive facial expressions and slicing deadpan rejoinders. While the farcical plot simply gives the songs a place to be the audience especially enjoyed the play’s comic skewering of politicians and the so called qualifications needed to be one.

Director Charles Repole works the elements of this show flawlessly and even though they stack up next to each other rather than mesh together, it hardly matters.

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

Four stars

What: The Music Circus production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and book by Joe DiPietro.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday Aug. 14.

Where: 1419 H Street, Wells Fargo Pavilion, Sacramento

Information: (916) 557-1999, SacramentoMusicCircus.com, or Tickets.com

Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes, including one intermission