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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Nice Work” & “Clybourne Park”

April 24th, 2012

I hope you’ve been pacing yourself because the tsunami of Broadway openings continues through the end of the week. (Maybe I’m crazy but wouldn’t a show get a lot more free publicity and buzz if it opened in a less packed couple weeks? Just saying…) Today, we’re looking at two new shows inspired by old material.

Kelli O'Hara & Matthew Broderick in "Nice Work If You Can Get It". Photo by Joan Marcus.


Acclaimed director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes) whips up a Gershwin confection about a boozy playboy and a tough gal bootlegger starring Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara.

“…a shiny, dutiful trickle of jokes and dance numbers performed by talented people who don’t entirely connect with the whimsy of a bygone genre.” New York Times

“…the primo supporting cast is talented enough to sell it all.” New York Post

“A bulging box of musical-theater candy.” Hollywood Reporter

“But director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall and a stellar cast ensure that the show is as charming in execution as it is disheartening in theory.” USA Today

Judy Kaye & Michael McGrath in "Nice Work If You Can Get It". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Mizer’s Two Cents: Unlike the high octane, Crazy For You/Anything Goes style dance extravaganza you might have expected (though there is stylish, energetic choreography), this is a feathery concoction designed to tickle your funny bone and leave you with a satisfied grin. Its string of smart dumb jokes, meringue deep character work and wittily sung Gershwin tunes suggest a 1920’s musical comedy crossed with a Carol Burnett sketch (at the show I saw, the cast teetered on the edge of breaking each other up at least twice).

Forget the billing, the real stars of the show are Judy Kaye & Michael McGrath as comic second bananas who repeatedly bring the simmering show to a boil with their more emphatic attack on the material; orchestrator Bill Elliot & music director Tom Murray’s ear-tickling and singable takes on classic songs; and bookwriter Joe DiPietro (you actually don’t mind leaving songs for another daffy, oddball scene). As for the above the title names, a lovely, clarion-voiced Kelli O’Hara and a winking, low key Matthew Broderick share a chemistry that is more show biz pros enjoying each other’s company than romantically sizzling couple — which takes the erotic charge out of the farce and some of the longing out of the Gershwin tunes — but they are game players happy to share the fun they are having with the audience. Though it may not knock your socks off, the show is a refreshing summer lark, like a tall glass of pink lemonade spiked with a tasteful half shot of gin.

Christina Kirk & Frank Wood in "Clybourne Park". Photo by Nathan Johnson.


The Pulitzer-winning comedy/drama about race and real estate in a Chicago neighborhood, inspired by A Raisin in the Sun, finally makes it to Broadway in a production first seen at Playwrights Horizons.

“…sharp-witted, sharp-toothed comedy of American uneasiness…more vital and relevant than ever on a big Broadway stage.” New York Times

“Bruce Norris’ play is also razor-sharp and funny as hell.” New York Post

 “…it’s dangerous and provocative, but pulverizingly funny to boot.” Variety

“Thankfully, Pam MacKinnon’s crackerjack production hasn’t lost any of its punch since its 2010 premiere…it’s tighter, a touch faster paced, and even more unflinchingly intense.” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: I loved this play when I saw it at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago last year and my admiration remains undimmed after checking out this solid Broadway production. Comparisons are inevitable, with the Steppenwolf getting the edge for its slightly more naturalistic ensemble work and home field advantage sense of place.

However, Broadway’s Christina Kirk and Frank Wood blew me away with their heightened and ultimately emotionally piercing work in the first act and Annie Parisse grabs hold of two less-buzzy roles and makes them sharp enough to draw blood. The Broadway production also sticks the landing (in a last moment I found overly portentous in Chicago) by underplaying it and allowing its significance to ripen in our minds. Whatever the small differences between productions, the script remains a provocative, entertaining and often-riotous look at human tribalism and its passive-aggressive discontents.


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