By Patrick Elliot
As a singer, dancer, an actor on screen and stage, award-winning performer Paris Martino enjoys a diverse artistic diet that includes multiple genres, disciplines and settings. Whether a featured soloist at star-studded galas and fundraisers or as part of an ensemble theater troupe, Paris unfailingly rises to the occasion. Her enthusiasm and wholistic proficiency illuminates every role, but recently she landed a true dream job, playing the female lead in the Weathervane Theater’s production of Tony-winning musical comedy Nice Work if You Can Get It.
“I love musical comedies,” Paris said. “They take us back to the core of musical theatre. While I do love contemporary musicals, every once in a while it’s wonderful to work on a fun, lighthearted musical that provides escapism to your audience.”
Nice Work if You Can Get It certainly delivers that. Set in the Roaring 20s, the fast-moving, boozy romp showcases the timeless songs of George & Ira Gershwin, with 9 of them performed by high-spirited female bootlegger Billie Bendix.
“I played Billie Bendix, the female lead of the show who sings the bulk of the music and had the most scene work,” Paris said. “I prepared for the role by watching many movie musicals of the time. This helped me do research, as well as develop my characterization—it was important to me to move and sound like women of the era did.”
Characteristically, the Canadian-born, Manhattan-based performer not only drew on her formidable natural talent but also the skill and knowledge acquired during the formal training she has pursued since childhood—her mother owned a dance studio where Paris began dancing at age 3! Vocal and acting lessons naturally followed and as a teen she entered the renown regional arts program at Ontario’s Mayfield Secondary School, acting in the school’s theatrical productions while also taking advantage of their dance program.
After graduating, the gifted, ambitious Paris was accepted at the famed Boston Conservatory at Berklee, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre and Dance. Additional intensive studies at the Performing Arts Project and New York City Dance Alliance elevated her creative capacity to an altitude that afforded her some high-profile awards, including a 2014 win in the Ontario Music Festivals Association’s musical theatre division and being named National Triple Threat at 2010’s Onstage New York Talent Competition—fiercely competitive events that saw her best 2000 contestants at the former and 500 others at the latter.
It was the Summer of 2020—the pandemic’s peak—and New Hampshire’s Weathervane Theater was one of a very few venues offering live performances, a fact that made landing the part of Billie was almost as challenging as her award competitions.
“I auditioned approximately four times, first at Weathervane’s initial auditions and then I was called back a few times to be a part of the company for that season,” Paris said. “Once I was accepted, the creative team auditioned us again, by having us read and sing songs from Nice Work. It was only after then that we were cast.”
“Preparing for Billie was difficult as she is not a typical ingenue,” Paris said. “She is a bit of a tomboy which was fun to play but it was also challenging, as I had to find the delicate balance between that boisterous energy and her boy-crazy feminine nature.”
Partly based on the 1926 Gershwin music Oh, Kay, the madcap plot involves a boozy playboy’s wild bachelor party, the problem of where to stash Billie’s 400 cases of smuggled gin and the protagonist’s unlikely romance, put over via the Gershwin’s immortal show tunes.
“I grew up on Gershwin, so I am very familiar with the songs,” Paris said. “I approached the music with that knowledge and cultivated a sound that I believe did the music justice.”
Paris was reliably electrifying in the part, delivering a perfected mix of flapper-era flamboyance, impeccable comic timing and flawlessly expressive vocal delivery. She made it look easy, but the reality was quite different.
“This role was as fruitful as it was anxiety inducing,” Paris said. “Before this, I had never taken on the responsibility that a character like Billie demanded so naturally I was fearful of not rising to the occasion, and even more so as this show was headlining the theatre’s season. The anxiety faded in rehearsal as I found the similarities between myself and the feisty, loud Billie Bendix.”
Nice Work if You Can Get It rates as any performer’s ideal vehicle, smart, sophisticated, hilariously funny and loaded with some of the most gorgeous songs in Broadway’s rich history. Paris savored every moment of the show’s SRO, 4 week run.
“The experience was incredibly rewarding. I gained so much knowledge, the most important being how to lead a show and take care of myself during such an intense process,” Paris said. “Opening night was wonderful. This was definitely a highlight of my career—and I was also thrilled to star in a show that brought so much joy to people during the pandemic.”
Paris’ exceptional mixture of technical skill, emotional authenticity and high voltage creativity enable to her execute characterizations of tremendous nuance and depth, skills she also brings to bear with dazzling facility as an interpreter of the Gershwin’s stunning classics “These are some of the most beautiful love songs ever written,” she said. “I was incredibly lucky to get to perform them in a professional setting rather than in just my shower!”