“Nice Work…” To Replace “Priscilla…”? Not Without A Fight!

New York Post
Sing? Yes, he Cannavale
Last Updated: 10:51 PM, August 18, 2011
Posted: 10:51 PM, August 18, 2011

AS anyone who saw his terrific performance in “The Motherf**ker With the Hat” can attest, Bobby Cannavale is one of our finest dramatic stage actors. But he’s not content to rest on this year’s Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Play. In the spring, he’ll be gunning for Best Supporting Actor — in a Musical.

Cannavale is determined, I’m told, to prove his mettle as a singer, most likely in the upcoming Gershwin show “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

We heard him sing a bit at the Tonys, where he warbled a few bars from David Javerbaum’s funny opening number, “Broadway’s Not Just for Gays Anymore.” Host Neil Patrick Harris pulled Cannavale out of the audience to sing, “Broadway touches parts of me that never have been touched” — bleep, bleep — “I love it very much!”

Judging from a recent look at it on YouTube, Cannavale needs work. He hit a few notes, but I don’t think they were the right ones. It sounded as though Tony Soprano were trying to talk-sing something from “My Fair Lady.”

But Cannavale’s a pro. He’s taking singing lessons, and his girlfriend, Sutton Foster, can teach him a thing or two. She’s still knocking ’em dead in the Roundabout’s “Anything Goes.”

Foster’s encouraging his foray into musical theater. So, too, is Kathleen Marshall, the director of “Anything Goes,” who’s directing and choreographing “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

“He’s surrounded by musical theater geeks,” a theater source says. “It was bound to rub off sooner or later.”

So far, Matthew Broderick is the only actor officially on board for the show. Here’s hoping he’s off book by the time previews begin in the spring.

Loosely based on the 1927 musical “Oh, Kay!,” “Nice Work” is a screwball romantic comedy about a rich playboy who gets mixed up with a trio of bootleggers during Prohibition. Cannavale would play one of them.

Joe DiPietro, who wrote the Tony-winning “Memphis,” is writing the script, which is said to have a few post-modern twists. The songs include “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “But Not For Me,” “Fascinating Rhythm” and “S’Wonderful.”

“Nice Work” seems slated for the Palace Theatre, where “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is fighting for its life. The betting is that it will be gone by the end of the year.

But it’s not going down without a fight. Bette Midler, one of its producers, will be featured in a new ad campaign, and some gag writers who work on her Vegas show have been hired to polish and update the musical’s jokes, which are right out of a comedy club in Alice Springs, Australia, circa 1983.

It’ll be interesting to see if an old-fashioned Gershwin-catalog show can still fly on Broadway. Tommy Tune, back in his glory days, scored with the delightful “My One and Only” in 1983. He sang and danced alongside Twiggy, with whom he was having an affair at the time. Their version of “S’Wonderful,” in which they danced and splashed about in a shallow pool, is a slice of musical comedy heaven.

In 1992, Susan Stroman and the late director Mike Ockrent staged the joyous “Crazy for You,” which featured a show-stopping “Slap That Bass,” in which the chorus girls became the basses.

But in 1999, “The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm” crashed and burned after a handful of performances. It probably wasn’t helped by a lesbian love scene the producers added to make the show “edgy.”

Around Broadway, there’s the sense that the great old composers — Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Kern — don’t have quite the same currency with baby boomers, who flock to shows like “Jersey Boys” and “Mamma Mia!”

Still, Marshall has a deft touch with old-fashioned musicals, and Broderick is long overdue for a musical comedy comeback. Add to that the curiosity factor of seeing tough-guy Cannavale transform himself into a songbird, and “Nice Work” just might have some traction.

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