‘Nice Work if You Can Get It’

By Sheila Barth

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Pssst. Can you keep a secret? If you’re looking for a good time, stepping back into the Roaring ‘20s, where illegal booze flows behind speakeasy doors, sexy flappers kick up their heels, bootleggers stow and supply real likker, and socialites and playboys cavort, head north, to Ogunquit Playhouse.

Belly laughs, slapstick silliness, fabulous music, energetic song-and-dance routines, glitzy costumes and sets abound with Ogunquit’s hand-picked, rip-roaring, rollicking, wacky cast,in 2012 award-winning Broadway musical comedy, “Nice Work if You Can Get It”.

By now, you’ve heard the flap about megastar Valerie Harper, who passed out backstage July 29, was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital, and subsequently dropped out of the show. The ever-resilient Harper, diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in recent years, miraculously had competed on “Dancing With the Stars” two years ago. She successfully performed at Ogunquit since the musical’s July 22nd opening, portraying wealthy socialite, Millicent Winters.

During her recuperation, Harper sent the cast a note, saying she’s back home with her family, doing just fine. She added she was never in a coma, as rumors intimated.

Although I missed Harper’s much-touted performance with her friend and inimitable co-star, Sally Struthers, Struthers called another Hollywood award-winning stage-TV-film friend, Brenda Vaccaro, to replace Harper. Luckily, Vaccaro complied, flew cross-country, quickly studied Harper’s role, and earned an appreciative,prolonged standing ovation on her second appearance last Wednesday.

Not to be overlooked is the zany, unpredictable, over-the-top funny lady Struthers, portraying temperance activist Duchess Estonia Dulworth, who outdoes herself with her physical and vocal shenanigans. Aided by her male counterpart, Beverly’s own superstar, James Beaman, this dynamic duo continuously brought the house down with their hijinks.

It’s also thrilling and exhilarating for those of us tracing our hometown, handsome, versatile Beaman’s career.  He habitually captivated audiences with his superb performances in “Spamalot,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The Buddy Holly Story,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Sound of Music,” and other national, international, Broadway, Boston, North Shore productions, and now, in his heralded return to Ogunquit.

Beaman, (who portrays bootlegger Cookie McGee), says he’s living his lifelong dream, co-starring with his idol, Struthers for a second time, and icons, Harper and Vaccaro.

In song-and-dance duet, “Fascinating Rhythm” Beaman also cuts a crazy rug with delightful headliner, Joey Sorge, who portrays fourth-time wed, vapid Long Island, NY playboy, Jimmy Winters.

Winters is celebrating his last night of “freedom” at a speakeasy,before his marriage to  Eileen Evergreen (Breighanna Minnema), daughter of stuffy, stodgy Senator/Judge Max Evergreen (Steve Brady), proving to his mother he can marry responsibly. Eileen is a spoiled, egotistical, creative dancer, who dotes on herself, luxuriating in a lavish, Ziegfeld Follies-style, pink, bubbly bath number, “Delichious”.

When the speakeasy-turned bait-and-lobster shack is raided by Judge Evergreen’s intemperate sister, torch-and-ax-toting Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Struthers), and her stripe-suited, fedora-topped Feds, decrying “Demon Rum,”  all hell breaks loose.

After the duchess burns down the speakeasy, bootleggers McGee (Beaman), big,not-bright guy, Duke (Aaron Fried) and street-wise gal Billie Bendix (Amanda Lea LaVergne) scatter, then reconnoiter, with their stash of booze, at Winters’ plush, Long Island summer mansion, where Jimmy’s wedding ceremony will take place next day.

Billie had stolen Jimmy’s wallet when he was buzzed, so she intends to return it, and  use his cellar to hide their booze.

Mayhem and mistaken identity erupt galore, as the bootleggers, cops, feds, wedding party, bevy of female guest-Jimmy admirers and Jimmy converge at his summer mansion.

So does constant comedy, with this superior cast’s antics.

Throughout the play, Beaman exhibits his fantastic comedic and musical timing, especially with Struthers, during a rapid, yes-no set, and later in their hilarious duet, “Looking for a Boy,” after he spikes the duchess’ lemonade. The sloshed Struthers climbs up on the banquet table, then swings from a chandelier, leaving the audience – and the cast – laughing hysterically.

Beaman’s tap dance numbers with the ensemble are s’wonderful, too.

This entire cast has infectious charisma. They look like they’re having a helluva time on stage together. When unfeminine LaVergne (Billie) attempts to get sexy with Jimmy in boudoir song, “Treat Me Rough,” then rough-houses with him, slapping his tush, Sorge gives her a “hey, that hurt!’ glance, while she smiles, shrugging it off.

Elyse Collier as sexy, dumb social climbing blonde, Jeannie Muldoon, aspires to be the Queen of England, and erringly strikes up a romance with Duke, thinking he’s royalty. But big, dumb Duke is tongue-tied by Jeannie’s pulchritude, overwhelmed by her ambition. Reluctantly, he confesses he’s nothing but a lowly bootlegger from Jersey. His love song to her, “Blah,Blah,Blah,” is priceless

And veteran Vaccaro earns her standing ovation, from the time she glides on stage in the last act. Her signature raspy voice booms offstage preceding, then electrifying, her entrance.

So what’s left to say? Not much. The production ends with fun surprises and unpredictable romances.

George and Ira Gershwin’s music reigns supreme in playwright Joe DePietro’s inspired re-do of Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse’s book for Gershwin show, “Oh Kay!”. Peggy Hickey’s razz-ma-tazz choreography; music director Charlie Reuter and Co.’s fantastic accompaniment; Shoko Kambara’s clever set; Richard Latta’s lighting, under the capable helm of Director Larry Raben, make this show a memorable, lighthearted summer delight.

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