Friday, February 20, 2015

Lied Center: Nice Work If You Can Get It

     Oh look, now AKSARBENT has decided it's a theater critic!
Lied Center website
     Though we grew up in Lincoln, we moved to Omaha as the Lied Center was being constructed and until last night had never stepped in the place. Shame on us for waiting until the 25th anniversary of Lincoln's performing arts center to pay our respects. The joint is well maintained, as you might guess from merely looking up at the sidewalk overhang at the entrance: 406 globe lights and not one was burnt out.
Intermission at Thursday's Lied
Center performance of
Nice Work If You Can Get It
     Inside, the main stage seats 2,192 in uncomfortably narrow seats but is otherwise a delightful venue. The temperature of the theater ranged from perfect to invigoratingly cool, just the way we like things.
      What we saw was a touring version of Nice Work If You Can Get It, a frothy concoction built around George and Ira Gershwin songs, which landed on Broadway in 2012 after several previous iterations under various names. We were told at the pre-performance talk that actual musicals featuring Gershwin songs from the early 19th century had plots too flimsy to amuse modern audiences.
     All we have to say to that is that the puffball book of Nice Work certainly amused to distraction Ms. Chucklehead in the row behind us as well as the rest of the audience, which seemed entirely too charmed by the flow of C-Minus sitcom-grade laugh lines delivered by a hammy troupe who seemed to regard the entire exercise as scenery-chewing camp.
     Regrettably, unlike drag queens and Frank "My leaves are turning" Sinatra, none of this crew seemed to knew how to make a campy line sound genuinely funny. It's possible, you know.
     A few things got us going: A drunk latching on to a chandelier when you aren't expecting her to swing from it is always hilarious. So was, to us, the line shouted in the general direction of the  bait shop / speakeasy, "This is the police. We have you surrounded. Except for the back door." We liked that a lot. So did the show's writer, evidently, as he milked the line again later, with "back window" replacing "back door."
Nice Work If You Can Get It number
from 2012 Tony Awards, via CBS
     A scene in which Mariah MacFarlane sang a lovely and beautifully-played rendition of Someone To Watch Over Me, while brandishing a rifle to protect her bootleg stash, was wickedly and  subversively funny, as was watching male lead Alex Enterline surf the bathing suit areas of the rest of the male cast members on his back as they rotated themselves like logs on the stage. THIS IS WHAT AKSARENT LOOKS FOR IN MUSICAL COMEDY!!! You can watch Kelli O'Hara do the former at 00:46 and Matthew Broderick do the latter at 3:05 at the 2012 Tony Awards Show here.
     But that was it for yours truly, if not the indulgent, tirelessly-fascinated audience, most of which gave the cast a standing ovation, even though the actors weren't up to the task of wringing deserving laughs out of a mediocre script. Or maybe they didn't try. (Why bother if an undemanding audience already thinks the jokes are hysterical?)
     The worst moment in the show was a titillating queer sop thrown to the audience when the judge, apropos of  nothing, suddenly announced his affection for the butler and kissed him on the mouth. This unexpected kink excited hundreds of thrill-seeking suburban heteros in the crowd and made AKSARBENT want to yell "Oh, go fuck yourselves" at the stage, but we're far too well behaved to say anything like that in public — only in the privacy of the Internet.
     What about the music? Well, who are we to bitch about George Gershwin? Even though we prefer orchestras, not six- or seven-piece bands, we understand the economic limitations of road companies and smallish venues.
     In any case the score's performance was expertly mixed to great effect, considering the paucity of musicians, and wonderfully arranged throughout, we thought. While we didn't give the production a standing ovation, we did saunter over to the edge of the small-ensemble pit and happily watched the musicians play as the audience filed out. We'd hire this group for any party and then ignore the guests.
     We also liked the substitution the cast made for taking a bow — a choreographed revisitation of "Fascinating Rhythm" staged so that each individual or small group got his, her or their due.
     Costumes: we liked the flapper dresses better than most of the jokes and we're not into women's clothing.
     Dancing/choreography: not as good as West Side Story, better than an Andy Williams special. (Our host, a theater queen aficionado, said the dancing was unusually energetic.)
     Aside: In the highlight video at the top of this post, of the touring company which performed in Lincoln last night, a male cast member makes the same amazing leap that made the Lied Center audience (and us) gasp.
     Verdict: worth the ticket price, and we saw it from one of the first five rows. (Thanks, L.V.!)

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