Crazy for You [Novello Theatre]

Crazy for You
Music & lyrics by George & Ira Gershwin, book by Ken Ludwig from a co-conception by Ken Ludwig & Mike Ockrent, inspired by material by Guy Bolton & John McGowan

Bobby Child – Sean Palmer
Polly Baker – Clare Foster
Irene Roth – Kim Medcalf
Lank Hawkins – Michael McKell
Bela Zangler – David Burt
Lottie Child / Patricia Fodor – Harriet Thorpe
Eugene Fodor / Perkins / Jimmy – Samuel Holmes
Everett Baker – Sidney Livingstone
Tess – Rachel Stanley
Patsy – Alexis Owen Hobbs
Louise – Lucy Anderson
Betsy – Jessica Buckby
Mitzi – Cara Elston
Elaine – Charlene Ford
Margie – Joanna Goodwin
Susie – Amy Griffiths
Pete – Phil Snowden
Billy – James O’Connell
Moose – Carl Sanderson
Sam – Harry Morrison
Mingo – Stephen Whitson
Junior – Richard Jones
Wyatt – Joshua Lacey
Vera – Jo Morris

Swings – Michelle Andrews, Stuart Dawes, Joshua Lay & Holly Dale Spencer

Stephen Ridley (Musical Director & keyboards), Mark Bousie (keyboards), Allan Cox (percussion), Ed Morris (double bass), Adrian Revell, Dave Bishop & Colin Skinner (saxophone & woodwinds), Derek Watkins & Gavin Mallett (trumpets) and Patrick Hartley (trombone)

Timothy Sheader – Director
Stephen Mear – Choreographer
Peter McKintosh – Set & Costume Designer
Gareth Valentine – Dance Arrangements & Musical Supervisor
Tim Mitchell – Lighting Designer
Chris Egan – Orchestrator
Mike Walker – Sound Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 5 November, 2011
Venue: Novello Theatre, London

The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park will be celebrating its eightieth birthday in 2012. It was opened in 1932 by Robert Atkins and Sydney Carroll with a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the first of umpteen productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although the Open Air has mainly staged the works of Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw wrote The Six of Calais for the theatre, and Goethe’s Faust, Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story (Robert Stephens and Michael Gambon), Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fayre, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest have graced it.

Since 1983 musicals have been some of the most popular productions at Regent’s Park, the first being Bashville (which David William and Benny Green adapted from Shaw’s The Admirable Bashville, to music by Denis King) and Lesley Garrett appeared in a double-bill of eighteenth-century operas, Thomas and Sally (Thomas Arne) and Rosina (William Shield). Since then there have been The Fantasticks, The Boys from Syracuse, The Card, The Pirates of Penzance and Kiss Me, Kate. Sondheim’s Into the Woods was the highest grossing production in the Open Air’s history until overtaken by Crazy for You which immediately transferred to the Novello Theatre.

It would appear that audiences were waiting for Crazy for You, perhaps as a piece of nonsense to cheer them up at a time of national depression. Girl Crazy, the original Gershwin show from which Crazy for You is adapted, did a similar job in the USA in 1930. It was also notable for giving Ethel Merman her first Broadway role and for making Ginger Rogers a star performer. The show has been made into several films, as a vehicle for the comedy duo Wheeler & Woolsey in 1932 but most notably with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in 1943 and lastly as When the Boys Meet the Girls in 1965 with Connie Francis, Harve Presnell, Louis Armstrong; Liberace and Herman’s Hermits. Like its title the film’s plot has no bearing on the original Gershwin show.

Indeed for Crazy for You, dubbed “the new Gershwin musical” in 1992, writer Ken Ludwig produced a new book. Although it may be something of an improvement on the original by Guy Bolton and John McGowan, it remains in spirit like a product of the 1920s and 1930s when musical comedies produced great songs that were generally hung around plots of ineptitude. But then we are talking musical-comedy and not Eugene O’Neill or Tennessee Williams. Ludwig’s version is fairly tongue-in-cheek, sending up the genre as well as contributing its own stereotypes. Anyway, the new version of Girl Crazy was an immense success in 1992 on Broadway where it ran for over 1,600 performances, winning a Tony Award for Best Musical. In London it played for nearly three years and won an Olivier Award.The plot of Crazy for You contrasts a successful Broadway follies show and a Nevada backwoods town, Deadrock, with a theatre that has closed down to become a post office. When dancer Bobby Child is sent to foreclose his mother’s mortgage on the post office, he falls in love with post mistress Polly Baker and then tries to re-open the theatre by putting on a show. The musical’s raison d’être is to find comedy in the residents of Deadrock and then dance up a storm. Crazy for You does this brilliantly well. The songs are top Gershwin numbers: ‘Bidin’ my time’, ‘Things are looking up’, ‘Shall we dance?’, ‘Someone to watch over me’, ‘Embraceable you’ and ‘I got rhythm’. Who could ask for anything more? Since they are all in Act One, you can ask for more and in Act Two you get the likes of ‘The real American folk song’, ‘Naughty baby’, ‘Stiff upper lip’, ‘They can’t take that away from me’, ‘But not for me’, and ‘Nice work if you can get it’ – nice work, indeed.

The two leads, Sean Palmer as Bobby Child and Clare Foster as Polly Baker, have instant chemistry, singing and dancing with great élan. David Burt as Broadway impresario Bela Zangler is his usual impressive self but he never overdoes the fooling around, even if he does look like Eddie Izzard. Michael McKell as Lank Hawkins, the hotel proprietor in Deadrock, has many fine funny moments and some romantic ones too with Kim Medcalf as Irene. Harriet Thorpe, doubling as Bobby’s mother and a hotel inspector, shows comic versatility.

However, it is the chorus of dancing cowboys and follies girls who impress the most – whenever they go into Stephen Mear’s pace-packed choreography the theatre lights up. It’s rare to see such amazing terpsichorean abandon in one show. The ten musicians produce a big sound and have the audience singing along even before the show has started. Director Timothy Sheader is to be applauded and encouraged for upping the ante on musical theatre in Regent’s Park. As Artistic Director of the Open Air Theatre he will be responsible for the eightieth-anniversary celebrations when he stages two productions from 18 May to 8 September, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ragtime, the musical. Should be another great year for the Open Air and, who knows, perhaps another transfer.

  • Crazy for You is at the Novello Theatre, Aldwych, London WC2, booking until 28 July 2012
  • Monday to Saturday 7.30 p.m., matinees Thursday & Saturday at 3
  • Tickets 0844 482 5171
  • Crazy for You

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