L-R: Adam Saucedo, Celestina Ripley, Lara Fern and R.J. Livingston in Crazy for You. Photo by Richard Green.
By Philip Pearce
Crazy for You, now playing at The Western Stage, is billed as “The New Gershwin Musical,” but it’s new (as of 1992) only in that Ken Ludwig took the 1930 hit Girl Crazy, recycled its city boy meets country girl story and added a whole lot of George and Ira songs from other shows and movies.
The script stays firmly fixed in that innocent pre-World War II world where a musical’s so-called “book” was just a nice flimsy framework on which to hang a few sentimental situations, a handful of jokes and as many hummable music and dance numbers as you could cram into two and a half hours of playing time.
The new TWS version, (they did it first back in 1997) is a brisk, glitzy, naive goldmine of gorgeous Gershwin music and inspired dancing. From the original Girl Crazy score there’s still that laconic chorus of Nevada layabouts draped around the saloon steps singing “Bidin’ my time” in close barbershop harmony. There’s the delectable soprano of Lara Devlin as frontier heroine Polly Baker urging R. J. Livingston as her city-bred dancing man swain Bobby Child to “Embrace me, my sweet Embraceable You” and there’s that perennial show-stopper “I got rhythm.”
But Ken Ludwig and Miles Ockwant add a load of other gems at points where they more or less (who cares how neatly?) fit into the flimsy plot line. There’s the wistfully hopeful “Someone to watch over me,” first sung by Gertrude Lawrence in O Kay!; there‘s“Nice work if you can get it,” which has far outlasted its lackluster premiere in Fred Astaire’s less than memorable A Damsel in Distress. Finest of all, to this viewer, was the pairing of what must surely be two of the greatest musical expressions of disappointed love ever penned, “But not for me” (Girl Crazy again) and the wonderful “They can’t take that away from me” from an Astaire movie called Shall We Dance that worked triumphantly because he sang and danced it with Ginger.
It’s a good cast, with Livingston a nimble, amiable and often funny Bobby, notably with the hilarious Adam J. Saucedo, who looks just like him for purposes of a story too complicated to explain, in some mirror image lunacy that’s an homage to a classic Groucho-Chico routine. Lara Devlin sings wonderfully and is delightfully feisty as the Far West girl he loves and they have a roster of pretty chorines, eccentric theatre producers, domineering moms and galumphing Western males to support them.
But it’s really all about the song and dance stuff and this production is a great example of Don Dally’s mastery of the voices in the cast and the instruments of a fine orchestra. As to the dancing, I was assured by a TWS staffer during intermission that some of the chorus girls had a willingness to learn but no previous tap experience when they checked in at the opening rehearsal. If so, Susan Cable, helped by Joelle McGrath, has miraculously transformed them into a chorus line with the verve, precision and ease of seasoned professionals. They had me grinning like a 1930s sugar daddy watching a Busby Berkeley production number.
Jeff McGrath keeps the action moving adroitly and says in his director’s notes that his goal was “to mine the show for laughs, sentimentality and eye candy.” He succeeds admirably, my one quibble being in the eye candy department. In old time westerns, you could tell the good guys from the bad because the good wore white Stetsons while the bad wore black. McGrath and costume designer Suzanne Mann seem to have adopted a similar dress code for Crazy for You. The nice girls all look delectable. But do the un-nice ones, like Rose A. Blackford as Bobby’s slinky “other woman,” and Pat Horsley as his overbearing mom, need to be done up in such a relentless succession of unattractive black and gray outfits and only change into something appealing when they have finally seen the light and succumbed to the general good will at the end of Act Two?
The show continues, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays through December 14th.