It takes more than rhythm and music to leave this reviewer not asking for more. The “new” Gershwin musical Crazy For You boasts a fantastic script (by Ken Ludwig) and fabulous music but, uncharacteristically, Savoyards require some integral improvements in their latest offering.
Crazy For You, the ’90s revamped version of the Gershwin Brothers’ classic musical Girl Crazy, features Bobby Child (Chris Thomas), a banker who dreams of being a dancer. After failing in his audition for Bella Zangler’s Follies his mother (Jo Toia) gives him the task of foreclosing a theatre in Deadrock, Nevada. Seeing this as a chance to leave his domineering fiancée (Vanessa Wainwright) Bobby accepts and sets off to Deadrock. Upon arrival he falls in love with the only girl in town, Polly (Louise Hodges), who has mutual feelings until she discovers he is there to foreclose the theatre. To save the theatre Bobby plans a show to end all shows and in disguise as Zangler convinces the town and dancing girls from New York to become involved. Meanwhile, Lank (Damien Lewis) is out to ruin all plans so he can expand his hotel into the adjacent theatre. But when the real Zangler (Alec Raymond) and Bobby’s fiancée appear in town plans go terribly wrong.
Savoyards have the potential elements of a great production, but on opening night their show certainly did not live up to the “toe tappin’ feast for the eyes and ears” which their flyer boasts. Some of the problems could be chalked up to opening night jitters (such as an embarrassing prop omission in the first act) but it is unusual for this company to lack energy. Crazy For You depends on such energy for success, but full cast scenes commonly appear sluggish and vacant.
Director Len Granato has incorporated some clever slapstick which often falls flat due to inaccurate timing. The show also labors with long and unnecessary set changes and dead stage time. Pace needs close attention to keep the audience interested. This is a shame as the script is inherently comedic. Two references to Les Miserables are unnecessary to the plot and rather self-indulgent. Staging elements also fail to give closure to some scenes, with action often finishing unexpectedly.
The orchestra also has energy problems with an overall flat tone dominating much of the music. Brass and strings sections are regularly insecure in higher register, and the orchestration seems dominated by the piano which I suspect is playing much of the rehearsal score instead of its orchestral part. An increased tempo in most of the songs would certainly buoy the pace on stage.
In terms of singing, the cast seem comfortable with the music. However synchronisation problems detract from the soaring chorus that is characteristic of Savoyards. It poses understandable difficulties for musical director Jan Ashworth to control chorus and orchestra from the keyboard.
Hodges is by far the diamond in the rough. Her mere presence on stage lifts the energy of all on stage and her dancing and singing is superb. “Someone to Watch Over Me” is the clear musical highlight of the show. Thomas is a capable singer, dancer and actor; however in this role he has a tendency to add an awkwardness that is not suitable to the boyish charm of Bobby Child. There appears to be little chemistry between Thomas and Hodges in this performance, but this will no doubt improve as the pair become more comfortable in front of an audience. Wainwright is entertaining and delivers a great comedic moment in “Naughty Baby”. Lewis has an infallible American accent, but requires a greater malevolent presence to be convincing. Raymond’s accent needs to be upheld to add credibility to Zangler’s presence. This is highlighted in a scene where Thomas is more convincing than Raymond in the Zangler accent department.
The dancing chorus look great when tapping, but more choreography is required in some of the major scenes where the action is very static. Slow and repetitive moves in lengthy dance sequences result in flagging interest.
Despite a few technical niggles, lighting is generally good. Costumes and sets are suitable for the period. Some sound is lost due to the lack of individual radio microphones, but most of the cast project well.
Crazy For You has many problems which need ironing out. As the season progresses, elements will no doubt fall into place as the cast become more comfortable with the orchestra and vice versa. A few extra joules of energy from all involved will do wonders for this potentially great production.