Matthew Broderick has some sage words for The Book of Mormon stars Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells. "I wish those guys luck," he says. "They're young, they're really freakin' good, but they'll have to live down that success forever."
Broderick speaks from experience, of course, as the man who starred with Nathan Lane in a little show called The Producers, which swept the 2001 Tony Awards and ran on Broadway for more than six years. "Hits like that are very rare," Broderick says. "Some people may be a little initially disappointed when whatever I do isn't The Producers, but that's kind of a wonderful burden to have."
The 1920s-set screwball romantic comedy Nice Work If You Can Get It, which opens April 24 at Broadway's Imperial Theatre, is Broderick's first stage musical since the Producers phenomenon. He insists, however, that the fear of failing to meet unrealistic expectations has nothing to do with his lengthy musical theatre hiatus.
"You would think that musical offers poured in after The Producers, but that didn't happen," explains the two-time Tony winner, who focused instead on straight plays like The Odd Couple and The Philanthropist. "Besides, I'd never measure anything by the Producers ruler. I love doing musicals, so I was extremely happy when I heard from Kathleen Marshall that she wanted me for Nice Work."
Marshall, Nice Work's director-choreographer, had worked nicely with Broderick before when she choreographed the 2003 television version of The Music Man, in which Broderick starred as Harold Hill. "I've always admired her," he says of the three-time Tony winner, who also helmed Broadway's current revival of Anything Goes. "She's so smart, witty, and inventive, and she takes the work very seriously."
Because it's been so long since his last musical outing, Broderick admits that Marshall's demanding choreography in Nice Work has proven a bit challenging. "I don't know if it's because the dance numbers are more active or because I'm just older, but it's probably the latter," says the 50-year-old actor, who underwent minor back surgery last year. "There are definitely more aches and pains this time around. I've been taking a lot of warm baths."
Marshall's choreography complements a sparkling score culled from the repertoire of George and Ira Gershwin. "'S Wonderful" and "Fascinating Rhythm" are among Broderick's favorite numbers in the show, as are lesser-known Gershwin gems like "Will You Remember Me?" "The audience will hear their favorite Gershwin standards, but there are some songs that people won't know at all — or at least I didn't," he says.
Nice Work is the second Gershwin musical to grace Broadway this season after The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. Gershwin tunes have also provided the framework for hit Broadway musicals of the past such as My One and Only and Crazy For You. Broderick understands what makes the Gershwin songbook and the Broadway stage a great match. "The lyrics are incredibly clever and delicious, and the tunes are so good that you can't get them out of your head," he says. "In fact, I'll get home from the show and still have the songs in my head. Somebody told me that if you can clear out whatever's stuck in there by singing 'Yesterday' by the Beatles, so that's what I've been trying to do."
Aside from Marshall's involvement and the catchy score, Broderick was immediately attracted to Nice Work's libretto. Written by Memphis Tony winner Joe DiPietro, the new book is inspired by Oh, Kay!, a Gershwin musical that opened at the Imperial in 1926. "It's very special," Broderick says. "The songs are old, but Joe's book is surprisingly funny and fresh. It helps the show feel anything but old-fashioned."
Broderick plays Jimmy Winter, a wealthy, popular bon vivant who lives in a large Long Island mansion. "He's on his fourth or fifth marriage — even the character isn't sure — and he's sort of a happy drunk or whatever you'd call a guy who likes to have a good time the way people did in 1920s, drinking champagne and dancing around like maniacs."
To get a better feeling for the period, Broderick watched a lot of old movies on TCM. "I've stolen from so many things," he says, "but the truth is that I usually only watch really old movies anyway. I'm like a very old man." Particular inspiration has come from 1936's My Man Godfrey and Warren William pictures like 1932's Skyscraper Souls. "I like anything where the man has a pencil-thin mustache."
Jimmy strikes up a romance with Billie Bendix, a tough-talking bootlegger played by three-time Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara. "Kelli has such a good handle on love stories, but she's also one of the best singers that Broadway has right now," Broderick raves, singling out her most recent Broadway appearance as Nellie Forbush in Lincoln Center's acclaimed revival of South Pacific. "I'd be happy to hear her sing anything, anytime."
But how does O'Hara compare to Nathan Lane as an onstage partner? "Well, she's prettier," says Broderick with a laugh. "If Kelli and I can generate half the romantic chemistry that Nathan and I had, I think we'll be just fine."
Playbill, April 2012 issue; extended online version.