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Arts & Culture
Southwest Orange Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 3 years ago

Dr. Phillips High theater department takes a trip to the Prohibition era with “Nice Work if You Can Get it”

The musical comedy follows a trio of bootleggers as their paths cross with a well-to-do couple off to their honeymoon.
by: Brittany Gaines Reporter

DR. PHILLIPS Things have come full circle for the seniors performing in Dr. Phillips High School’s spring musical. 

When they were freshmen just starting out in their high school theater careers, they performed “Crazy for You” - a Gershwin musical. Now, they are capping off their high school years with another Gershwin piece, “Nice Work if You Can Get it.”

“There’s some growth that you can see,” said Maddy Montz, who stars as Billie Bendix. “You find the beauty in it more in your senior year that you don’t notice in your freshman year.”

Brothers George and Ira Gershwin were a songwriting duo who wrote multiple musical comedies together throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Although “Nice Work if You Can Get it” was written Joe DiPietro, all the music and lyrics were songs written by the Gershwin brothers.

The musical is set in 1927 during the middle of the Prohibition era and follows a trio of bootleggers as their paths cross with a well-to-do couple off to their honeymoon. 

“Even though it’s during the Prohibition, it doesn’t bring down the mood of the show,” said sophomore Walker Russell, who stars as Duke Mahoney. “It’s not a nitty-gritty show about the ‘20s. It’s a fun exploration of the fantasy world of the ‘20s.”

It’s the comedic moments that the students like best about the show.

“It’s very silly and so dumbed down that it’s funny,” said senior Juan Ayala, who plays Cookie McGee in the show. “It’s so great. I love how the play was built, how the musical was built.”

When Jason Whitehead, the director of theater at the high school, began looking at options for this year’s musical, he knew he wanted to do something different.

“I like being able to do a unique production,” he said. “We had done a lot of heavy pieces, so I wanted a nice contrast one for the department.”

When he announced that the show would be “Nice Work if You Can Get it,” the students were thrilled.

“It’s my final chance to be in a musical,” said Oliver Davids, a senior who stars as Jimmy Winter. “This show is so funny, the music feels really (reminiscent) of the Golden Age, but the show has such a new vibe.”

Although Whitehead, who was a new addition to the school’s staff in 2016, was aware that the seniors had performed a Gershwin musical as freshman, he said it had no bearing on his decision to bring Gershwin’s music back to the DPHS theater.

“It’s sheer coincidence,” he said.

Coincidence or not, it’s a perfect bookend for the seniors in the show.

“I love Gershwin’s music and style,” Montz said. “The joy of their music - it’s just a lot of fun.”

The cast, which includes more than 30 high schools students, has been rehearsing the show since before November. Many of them discovered that the musical would force them to stretch their acting talents.

“There are a lot of physical gestures to fit the times,” Davids said. “I always have to remember to button my suit - the first button. There’s a sense of proper all the time.”

Playing characters from the 1920s also meant adjusting their speech to fit the era.

“We can’t use slang words (in the show),” said Ayala. “But it’s cool to talk like how we are supposed to.”

It also tested the students’ ability to bring the musical’s adult themes to life.

“It’s hard for us to be bootleggers,” Montz said. “We’ve never done anything like that (in our life), so it’s a challenge.”

It’s one that everyone embraced and met with enthusiasm.

“I love the style of the 1920s,” said senior Cheyenne Young, who plays Eileen Evergreen. 

With dress rehearsals complete, costumes pressed and sets waiting in the wings, everyone is excited for the show to go on.

“It’s very wacky and goofy,” Russell said. “I think people are going to love it.”


Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].

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