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Review: Nice Work If You Can Get It, at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

20 December, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Fraser Fraser and Abigail Earnshaw in Nice Work If You Can Get It. Photo: Darren Bell

THE love, care and attention that shines through the Christmas musical at the Upstairs At The Gatehouse pretty much guarantees you a winning ticket at this time of year.

With Nice Work If You Can Get It, escapism hangs around the sounds of George and Ira Gershwin, with the in-house team reaching for even higher heights.

This is one of their best yet, West End quality viewed up so close in this theatre you can see the whites of the actors’ eyes and hear the click of their Charleston-dancing feet. Don’t say you weren’t warned if it sells out fast.

Really, a seat is worth it just for Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson, who has a juggle on her hands as Billie Bendix, a supposedly hard-edged booze bootlegger in Prohibition-era America distracted when she falls for unfulfilled millionaire Jimmy Winter (Alistair So). She can snap out terse one-liners, draw out aching shoulda-been-me vulnerability ahead of the ballads, she can sing, she can dance… it’s a remember-the-name performance.

But it is by no means a one-woman show, as a quick stab at explaining how Billie and Jimmy end up lovetorn should suggest: she steals his wallet but falls in love with him – but he’s due to be married to someone else, the daughter of a senator who is trying to win votes by rooting out the bootleggers. Billie, whaddayaknow?, just happens to be storing her black market liquor in the cellar of the mansion she thought Jimmy never used but, naturally, he suddenly seems to use a lot. We could go on but it keeps spinning on. The skill is not to fall into basic, saw-that-coming slapstick; the rich fun more often comes from some carefully schemed and surprising musical set pieces such as Billie’s awkward seduction for Treat Me Rough and the bubble-pumping stagecraft of Delishious.

By the end of a breathless evening, you are wondering why nobody has done the show in this country before. For while the title number Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off and Someone To Watch Over Me are familiar songs, Nice Work is getting its UK premiere having never quite made the switch from Broadway in 2012 to London. It’s a clever bit of scouting by theatre managers John and Katie Plews; a standing ovation ensued on press night. Five stars for sure.

Until January 27
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