Bootleggers, Gold Coast mansions, and high kicking Charleston moves are just some of the antics that will be front and center in “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” the Shelter Island Drama Club’s spring musical which will be presented in the school auditorium March 22 through 25.
The play, a farce-filled romp through the Roaring ‘20s, features a book by Joe DiPietro. It premiered on Broadway in April 2012, and though it is a contemporary script, “Nice Work if You Can Get It” evokes an earlier era that many audience members will appreciate — particularly if they’re fans of old-time love songs. That’s because the play is based on material written originally by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse around the time of World War I. And the music? Pure George and Ira Gershwin.
“It’s filled with their songs — ‘Someone to Watch Over Me,’ ‘Fascinating Rhythm,’ ‘Treat Me Rough,’ ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,’” said director John Kaasik in an interview during a recent rehearsal at the school. “Older audiences will love it.”
The students seem to be having a good time with it as well, which is just how Mr. Kaasik likes it. If you suspect that he’s been particularly fond of bringing early 20th-century farcical musicals to the Island in recent years, you’re entirely correct. This one follows on the heels of last year’s “Curtains” and “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which the students presented in 2016.
“It’s such a similar genre to the other two — there are missed identities and farce that is so beyond reality. It’s comedy leaning toward the unreal,” said Mr. Kaasik. “It’s raw fun. You leave your brain at home.”
He adds that the selection of this play is also related to other important criteria.
“The shows we do have to have a lot of roles — and some of these have a lot of roles,” Mr. Kaasik said. “Because this was written 10 years ago, the humor is definitely more contemporary. I think the kids get it too. When the songs and melodies are good, everyone recognizes it. The kids are singing these songs in the hall and because the comedy is so contemporary, it’s of their era.
“It’s not like trying to do Shakespeare — it’s simple humor and not sophisticated,” he added.
The plot line of “Nice Work if You Can Get It” is set in 1927 and the play opens with three gangsters and bootleggers — two men and a woman — looking for a place to stash their liquor. While in a park, they happen to meet a very drunk Jimmy Winter, who also happens to be very rich. Jimmy’s coming from his own bachelor party on the eve of his marriage to Eileen Evergreen, the finest interpreter of modern dance in the world.
“The female gangster falls in love with Jimmy, and the other two gangsters meet the higher echelon of society, including the Duchess Estonia Dulworth, head of the ‘Society for Dry Women,’” explained Mr. Kaasik. “She’s a big prohibitionist, and one of the other bootleggers falls in love with her, ironically.”
Also incorporated into the plot twist is a move to Jimmy’s family estate on the North Shore of Long Island. That’s where the gangsters decide to hide their 400 cases of illegal gin. Of course, along the way there are also cases of misidentification, misunderstandings and plenty of drunken accidents to round out the song and dance numbers (courtesy of choreographer Laura Dickerson).
Because so much is happening on stage at once, it falls to Mr. Kaasik to ensure his young thespians are clearly relaying the important plot progression details to the audience.
“It’s important that the characters’ reactions are always big so the audience understands what’s happening,” Mr. Kaasik explained. “A lot of people will be on stage and lots of information is given out. One of the challenges is you want the audience to get it all.”
This show features 28 students in grades 8 through 12, with another 10 to 15 who are working backstage.
The female lead this year is senior Hayley Lowell-Liszanckie, who. as the female gangster Billie Bendix, falls in love with wealthy Jimmy Winter (played by fellow senior Daniel Boeklen). Last year, Ms. Lowell-Liszanckie portrayed the young dancer Bambi Bernét in “Curtains” and this is the first time she finds herself in the romantic lead.
“The chemistry between her and Danny is amazing. They’re good souls, and watching them together is beautiful,” said Mr. Kaasik.
“It’s definitely different than last year,” said Ms. Lowell-Liszanckie during a break in rehearsal. “I was more the bratty daughter then. Now I have to be a tough bootlegger who’s never experienced love, but is now falling in love with this guy who’s been married multiple times.”
“Her character goes from being so tough and never needing anyone to softening up and developing relationships with different groups of people,” she added. “Last year, I didn’t have a love interest. I think it’s challenging to act like you’re falling in love with someone you’ve known all your life.”
Ahh, to be young and on the stage … nice work if you can get it.