Over the next several days, leading to the New Year, the Reporter will be posting our annual Year In Review series of important stories from 2018.
The glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties may be long gone, but prohibition-era bootleggers, Gold Coast mansions and rich bad boys with no visible means of support were all alive and well on the stage of the Shelter Island School auditorium this March in “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” the Shelter Island Drama Club’s spring musical.
The play packed the house nightly and the talented cast of student singers, actors and dancers kept audiences laughing and cheering till the end.
Set primarily on the North Shore of Long Island in 1927, the nostalgia-laden play with a book by Joe DiPietro was full of Charleston-inspired dance numbers, gangsters in disguise, a secret stash of gin and a score so chock full of George and Ira Gershwin songs it’s impossible not to fall in love.
There was a lot of that going on in the play as well.
The action began in New York City where the suave and wealthy Jimmy Winter (Daniel Boeklen) celebrated in a speakeasy with friends and a gaggle of beautiful showgirls. It was his bachelor party and the next day he was set to marry his third (or is it his fourth?) wife, choreographer Eileen Evergreen (Amelia Clark), the world’s most famous interpreter of modern dance. She also happens to be the daughter of powerful Senator Max Evergreen (Devon Bolton) and the niece of rabid prohibitionist Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Bianca Evangelista).
While making his drunken way home across the park after the festivities, Jimmy comes across bootlegger Billie Bendix (Hayley Lowell-Liszanckie) and begins to woo her just as she is plotting with her partners Cookie McGee and Duke Mahoney (Owen Gibbs and Taylor Tybaert) to hide 400 cases of gin.
This scene also included a very fun cameo appearance by Christine Finn — Shelter Island school superintendent and principal.
Billie and her gang decide to transport the spirits to Jimmy’s grand summer home on Long Island, which he says he never uses. But when they arrive with their 400 cases to stash in the home’s cellar, they run right into Jimmy and his new bride who have decided to spend their honeymoon there.
Also arriving not long afterward are Senator Evergreen and Duchess Dulworth who come to celebrate as well. But when they learn that Jimmy is not yet officially divorced from his latest wife, things turn ugly. The duchess calls in the vice squad to have him arrested as a bigamist. Meanwhile, also on the scene is police officer Chief Berry (Nicholas Labrozzi) who is in hot pursuit of the booze peddlers. That means Billie, Cookie and Duke must assume false identities as household staff in order to avoid detection and they work furiously to keep everyone happy and out of the cellar — especially the duchess who has a nose for liquor.
Along the way, there were plenty of Gershwin song and dance numbers making the biggest fans happy, including classics like “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Treat Me Rough,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Do It Again,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” and “’‘S Wonderful.” Even strains of “Rhapsody in Blue” were heard throughout the score, and ultimately, the characters, just like the audience, discovered they couldn’t help but fall in love.
Soon each of the gangsters has someone new in their life — for Billie, it’s Jimmy, for Duke it’s the lovely little flapper Jeannie Muldoon (a role split by Madison Hallman and Abigail Kotula on alternating nights) and Cookie … well, let’s just say his love comes from a most unexpected source.
But given the complications, the future looks bleak for the budding lovers, several of whom might end up in jail. Then a plot twist late in Act II courtesy of Jimmy’s wealthy mother Millicent Winter (Jennifer Lupo) offers an explanation about Jimmy’s complicated parentage that at the time, seems so wrong, yet in the end, makes everything so right with the world… well, at least until the Great Depression sets in.
But that’s another story.