“Crazy for You” – a vivacious, vintage rom-com musical with heart @ Edinburgh Playhouse (and on UK tour)
The 1930 musical Girl Crazy, with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin – with Ginger Rogers in her first leading role and Ethel Merman making a stunning debut – launching such hit songs as “I Got Rhythm,” “But not for Me” and “Embraceable You. ”
It was later adapted as a movie, starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
Fifty years later, wanting to recreate this golden age of Hollywood and Broadway, Ken Ludwig revised the show, selecting a collection of those classic songs to devise a new Gershwin musical comedy, “Crazy for You.” This Broadway smash hit ran for 1,422 performances and won the 1992 Tony Award for Best Musical.
Frank Rich, New York Times theatre critic, known as “The Butcher of Broadway” for his damning reviews, was seriously impressed: “When future historians try to find the exact moment at which Broadway finally rose up to grab the musical back from the British, they just may conclude that the revolution began last night at the Shubert Theater, where “Crazy for You” uncorked the American musical’s classic blend of music, laughter and dancing with a freshness and confidence”.
After a successful run at the Watermill Theatre last Summer, this revival of ‘Crazy For You’ is now touring the UK. This romantic comedy embraces the typical Show within a Show narrative, (Funny Girl, Cabaret, A Star is Born et al) in which Bobby Child, a wealthy New York banker has a dream of swapping the Waspish world of Wall Street for the glittering limelight of showbiz. Desperate to show off his talent, he gives an impromptu audition to the Hungarian producer, Bela Zangler, gleefully pirouetting across the stage in a bid to join the Follies show.
Disillusioned with work, life and love, he seems trapped between two strong minded women, Irene, his fiancee of five years, and his domineering mother who insists he goes on a business trip to a one horse, mining town in Nevada. Given the ultamatum by Irene, to choose between “Me and Deadrock,” he decides to leave his troubles behind and escape to the mid West. This is the era of the Depression and times are rock bottom in Deadrock – the Gaiety Theatre is being forced to close by the bank and that Bobby Child is on his way to end the family business run by Everett Baker and his daughter Polly.
The split level stage set is brilliantly designed, shifting from the Zangler Theatre, NY to the run-down Gaiety, complete with ornate decor, box “ashtrays,” curtains, lighting rigs, costume rails and props. The backdrop neatly switches from skyscaper buildings to the barren, sun-drenched red rock Nevada desert. In his pin-stripe city suit, Bobby looks a tad out of place when he arrives, parched and panting, in Deadrock to find a local posse of dungaree clad, gunslinger cowboys lining up the Saloon.
He’s immediately attracted to Polly, a tough talking, ‘Calamity Jane’ kinda gal who quickly shows off her beer bottle skills in an hilarious slick slapstick scene at the Bar.
As she clearly won’t be seduced by his dastardly deeds as a banker, the only way to win her over is to plan to save – not close the theatre. Exit Bobby Child into the wings and enter the suave, thickly-accented Hungarian, Bela Zangler, fooling Polly by his impersonation. The pop up Producer then magically entices the Zangler Follies to take part in a spectacular show and bring the Gaiety back to life.
So that is the crazy plot, a sugar sweet, spirited cocktail blending farcical comedy, mistaken identity, romantic entanglements, the narrative interlinking with the gorgeous Gershwin lyrics.
The ensemble of cowboys and chorus line is also the onstage band strumming guitars and banjos, playing alto sax, flute, clarinet, double bass and piano with gusto, to add an extra dynamic to the performances. Costumes are all very colourful with the Chorus Line swiftly changing from short frilly green outfits to slinky silk pink, mauve, blue, orange and gold gowns.
Nathan M Wright’s inventive choreography throughout is exquisitely mastered with pace and precision, moving seamlessly from jiving jitterbug and lively Lindy hops to clickety click tap shoes. Perfectly cast as Bobby, Tom Chambers, renowned for Strictly Come Dancing and his dazzling performance in ‘Top Hat,’ captures the enthusiasm, boyish charm and exemplary, all round showmanship as actor, singer and dancer.
Charlotte Wakefield brings out Polly’s complex personality, a gutsy cowgirl with a sweet natured, feminine vulnerability. Her voice is smooth as silk with a rich creamy depth for such beautiful ballads as “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Spine tinging moments too in the duet, “Embraceable You” and Bobby’s soulful solo, “They Can’t Take that Away from Me.”
Centre stage, Chambers and Wakefield express the similar, unique chemistry of the Astaire –Rogers double act in a graceful, embracing waltz and vivacious show stopping numbers, “Nice Work if You Can Get It” and the fabulous “I Got Rhythm” tap dancing routine.
Talk about energy! Bobby throws himself into scary stunts, sliding down spiral stairs and abseiling a pillar with acrobatic high flying flair.
Sharply, smartly directed by Paul Hart as a fun, frolicking comic caper, the dialogue is peppered with witticisms: when it’s suggested the Gaiety could be used for gambling, the barbed response is “who would travel all the way to a casino in Nevada!” And a couple of British tourists, dressed in safari shorts and hats, are in Nevada to write a guide book – their name? Patricia and Eugene Fodor.
It is curious that the cameo role of Irene, Bobby’s glamorous girlfriend (played with vampish style by Claire Sweeney), is listed as a leading lady. This is a small, underwritten character, mainly as a foil to pretty Polly (in her old fashioned gingham frock), to illustrate their contrasting lifestyles in New York and hillbilly country.
From the opening clarinet solo with the opening melody of Rhapsody in Blue to all the vintage classics, this is a spectacular celebration of Gershwin’s timeless, emotionally charged music. The lyrics say it all – “I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man, who could ask for anything more?” – in this deliciously zany, totally crazy show. Imagine “The Waltons” blended with “42nd Street” and you’ll get the picture.
Edinburgh Playhouse : 3 – 7 April, 2018 http://www.atgtickets.com
UK tour until 9 June 2018: http://www.crazyforyoutour.com/