Interview: Writing a new Gershwin musical is ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’
We spoke with book writer Joe DiPietro about tackling the project of making what’s old seem new again on Broadway.
Starring Matthew Broderick (“The Producers”) and Kelli O’Hara (“South Pacific”), directed and choreographed by award-winning Kathleen Marshall (“Anything Goes”), “Nice Work If You Can Get It” incorporates classic George and Ira Gershwin tunes into a brand-new 1920s-themed musical comedy about bootlegging, flapper-era playboys and, of course, finding romance. We spoke with book writer Joe DiPietro about tackling the project of making what’s old seem new again on Broadway.
How did you get involved with “Nice Work”?
The Gershwin estate called me because they had been trying to develop a new musical comedy for a while. … They wanted to do a real 1920s musical comedy — which is what the Gershwins were known for. And I thought, oh my God, I love this genre. I’m the guy for this, I really know how to write this.
You weren’t worried it would seem dated?
The Gershwin music is timeless. … [It] still stands up the best. George Gershwin was sort of the rock star of his day. You can tell just in the rhythm and the joy of his music, there’s a lot similar to a Gershwin tune and contemporary rock ’n’ roll. [But] the original comedies were written of their day — they were very flimsy, they wrote two or three a year because they never expected them to last. So they would throw in jugglers and dog acts and the producer’s girlfriend and whatever they wanted to do, just this sort of formless entertainment.
Did the estate already know the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” was also heading to Broadway?
Oh, no, no, no. We’re next-door neighbors, an even bigger coincidence! In theater it always seems like everything is planned out — but it’s when the stars are available, the theater’s available, the money is raised, the project feels ready. So it’s really a coincidence. I just saw “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” — who would have thought? It’s the theater muses playing tricks on us.
And today’s audiences are still embracing these kinds of plays?
The creative teams really try to make both shows seem as fresh and relevant as possible. Neither seems musty, or like a revival, or a new old musical just for that sake. They both seem to speak to us in these times. If either of them just seemed old-fashioned and nostalgic, I don’t think either of them would be doing as well as they are!