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Native Oklahoman returns to Broadway

Native Oklahoman Kelli O'Hara returns to Broadway in the new Gershwin musical, “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
BY RICK ROGERS rrogers@opubco.com Published: May 6, 2012
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“Joe DiPietro has done an amazing job of making these songs work within the story,” O'Hara said. “And (director/choreographer) Kathleen Marshall likes to use the verses to the songs and not just the choruses. The verse sets everything up and then when you hear the familiar chorus, you can sit back and enjoy it.”

Honing in on strengths

O'Hara has high praise for co-star Broderick, an actor who has enjoyed considerable success in the theater. He's had starring roles in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “The Producers.” Broderick won Tony awards for “Brighton Beach” and “How to Succeed.”

“This show is so engineered for Matthew,” O'Hara said. “Jimmy (his character) is a playboy and a drunk. If he was too slick, you wouldn't trust him but, since it's Matthew, you love him. They've really honed in on his strengths.”

O'Hara's character in turn takes quite a journey in “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” She gets to play the tough broad who keeps her heart well hidden. But as Billie falls under Jimmy's spell, we gradually see that rough exterior melt away.

“I'm sure guys have hit on her but she's never been open to the idea of finding love,” O'Hara said. “She realizes she has to stick with her bootlegger guys and help them out. But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that she's just a girl who wants things (like love). Jimmy unlocks that world for her which is really nice.”

Staying on target

While the 1992 musical “Crazy for You” borrowed a few plot elements from the Gershwins' 1930 comedy “Girl Crazy,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It” features a new storyline that is enhanced by the inclusion of nearly two dozen Gershwin tunes.

“The gentleman who wrote a book about Ira Gershwin's lyrics has made sure we're all on target,” O'Hara said. “We've been allowed to change some minor things: a shift of pronouns in ‘I've Got a Crush On You' and replacing the word ‘ever' with ‘never' in ‘Someone to Watch Over Me.' Since those things don't change the melody or the sentiment, the Gershwin Estate seems very happy.”

Clearly, O'Hara is responsible for much of the estate's positive view of the show, with a handful of solos and duets that showcase her gorgeous voice. While “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not for Me” are standouts, it's the little-known but hauntingly beautiful “Will You Remember Me?” that reminds people why O'Hara has become the toast of Broadway.

“In the theater, we love to make people think and feel emotional, but there's something special about getting to make people happy,” O'Hara said. “We see kids smiling and people of the generation who love Gershwin's music. I think this show is a combination of all the best things about classic musical theater.”