Crazy for You [Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park]

Crazy for You
A musical using 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 – Samuel Holmes
Tess – Rachel Stanley
Patsy – Alexis Owen Hobbs
Louise – Lucy Anderson
Betsy – Jessica Buckby
Mitzi – Cara Elston
Elaine – Charlene Ford
Margie – Jo Goodwin
Susie – Amy Griffiths
Pete – Phil Snowden
Billy – James O’Connell
Moose – Carl Sanderson
Sam – Harry Morrison
Mingo – Stephen Whitson
Junior – Richard Jones
Wyatt – Josh Lacey
Vera – Jo Morris

The Band/Gareth Valentine

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: Tom Vallance

Reviewed: 8 August, 2011
Venue: Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London

George Gershwin died in 1937 at the age of 39. Nevertheless shows such as Lady Be Good, Girl Crazy, and Of Thee I Sing were revived and recorded. In 1946 unpublished manuscripts were used to create a score for the film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, and in the early 1990s, when playwright Ken Ludwig was asked to adapt Girl Crazy for a new production, he suggested instead that he write a completely new libretto while retaining the idea of a Broadway-orientated young man being transplanted to the wilds of Nevada. Keeping only six songs from the original score (though one, ‘Bronco busters’, is not listed in the programme), he added thirteen numbers from the Gershwin catalogue, all slotted seamlessly into the new book, and the result was a tremendous hit on Broadway and in London’s West End.

In truth, Ludwig’s libretto for Crazy for You is no less silly (involving impersonation and cowboys transformed overnight into dazzling hoofers) than the original, and in common with most vintage musicals puts the emphasis on gags, girls and dancing. The gags are sometimes hoary, but variations on the Marx Brothers routine of two lookalikes mimicking each other’s movements via an invisible mirror remain amusing, and in general the show evokes only the best sources, such as The Harvey Girls (a bevy of gorgeous cuties descending on a largely male backwater), The Music Man (a small community invigorated by its new musical interests) and, most of all, Girl Crazy itself and the subsequent film version starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

When Bobby arrives in the small Nevada town to foreclose the mortgage his wealthy mother has on the Post Office, he falls in love with postmistress Polly and suggests that she saves her property by, what else, putting on a show. When his suggestion meets with disdain, he asks, “Don’t you ever go to the movies? Mickey Rooney does it all the time.” Peter McKintosh uses the theatre’s revolving stage to create the main locations of a neon-lit New York and a dusty Nevada town (he also provided the colourful costumes) and Timothy Sheader directs with a lively pace and an appropriate sense of fun – his cowboy trio bring on their own cactus plants as they sleepily deliver ‘Bidin’ my time’.

The songs are mainly great standards, including ‘Someone to watch over me’, ‘Nice work if you can get it’ and ‘They can’t take that away from me’, but there are also some interesting rarities, such as ‘The real American folk song’ (introduced by Nora Bayes in 1918), ‘K-R-A-zy for you’ and ‘What causes that?’ both sung by Clifton Webb and Mary Hay in Treasure Girl (1928) and, perhaps most recherché of all, ‘Tonight’s the night’, written in 1929 for Show Girl but not used, with the melody thought lost until it reappeared with a stack of other show-tune gems in a New Jersey warehouse in 1982. The show’s wealth of gorgeous melody is well served by a splendid cast that taps and glides through the evening with joyous abandon and precision. Polly, though she has some of Gershwin’s most gorgeous ballads, has a thankless task, since songs such as ‘Embraceable you’ and ‘But not for me’ have been recorded by such as Garland, Ella Fitzgerald and Jane Froman, but Clare Foster provides capable renditions, she tears into the exhilarating ‘I got rhythm’ and duets engagingly with Sean Palmer on ‘Could you use me?’. In a show dominated by dance there are breathtaking displays of acrobatic energy, including from Palmer. Susan Stroman choreographed the original production but, although Stephen Mear retains one or two of the more celebrated ideas, most of the numbers have been freshly conceived, with the big ensemble numbers building to climaxes that has the audience roaring its approval.

The original Girl Crazy opened in 1930 and is credited with bringing some joyful frivolity to the dark days of the Depression. Crazy for You, a tuneful frolic that leaves the viewer smiling, could be said to be doing a similar service for patrons of Regent’s Park.

  • Crazy for You is at the Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London NW1 until Saturday 10 September 2011
  • Monday to Saturday at 7.45 p.m., matinees Thursday & Saturday at 2.15
  • Tickets on 0844 826 4242
  • Open Air Theatre

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