Several elements combine gracefully to create an absolute delight at Signature Theatre. First, its current production, the Gershwins' & Ken Ludwig's Crazy for You, relies on the music of George and Ira Gershwin, which has been charming audiences for decades. Second, its plot is concocted by Ludwig, a master storyteller whose plays are the products of a tremendously rich imagination and piquant sense of humor.
Ludwig's book is roughly patterned on the Gershwins' 1930 musical Girl Crazy. The main character, a New Yorker named Bobby Child, loves to tap dance, though his mother wants him to be a banker. He auditions for Follies producer Bela Zangler, but Zangler is closing down for the season. In order to escape his demanding fiancée, Irene, Bobby does his mother's bidding and goes to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a theater that is bankrupt.
Deadrock is the polar opposite of New York. The cowboys who inhabit it move very slowly and never dance. But once Bobby sees its one female inhabitant, Polly, he is instantly smitten. Polly, on the other hand, has been alerted that Mr. Child will be coming from New York to close the theater where her mother used to perform, so she wants nothing to do with him. Bobby realizes that he could save the theater by putting on a musical. He alerts the chorus girls who work for Zangler and they come rushing out to Nevada, while Bobby dons a costume that makes him look like Zangler. Polly promptly falls in love with "Zangler" and the rest of the musical is dedicated to extricating Bobby from his disguise and making a success of the production.
Danny Gardner is excellent as Bobby Child, bringing both acting and dancing virtuosity to the table. In particular, his tap dancing is at once light and muscular. Gardner makes it possible to believe in the improbable, dreamlike theatrical world in which Bobby lives. Ashley Spencer's Polly is a perfect match for Gardner. In addition to her dancing talents, her clear soprano is appropriate for all the Gershwin standards, especially "But Not for Me" and "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Bobby Smith is delightful as the cranky Zangler, who eventually spends all his money to buy the Deadrock theater. Natascia Diaz is hilariously impossible as Irene and equally hilarious when she decides that the saloonkeeper in Deadwood, Lank, should be her husband. Cole Burden is a good foil for Irene as Lank, the tough barkeep, providing a solid base for her to wrap her body around as she sings "Naughty Baby." Sherri Edelen shines in the dual roles of Bobby's overweening mother and Patricia Fodor who comes to Nevada with her husband Eugene (Thomas Simpson) to write a Guidebook to the West.
Matthew Gardiner directs the show at a fast pace, leaving breaks for the slower numbers. He and choreographer Denis Jones deserve particular praise for inspiring a marvelously talented 16-person ensemble that feels even larger than it is. Ludwig's book seamlessly adds Gershwin numbers that weren't originally part of Girl Crazy, including "Things Are Looking Up," a Gershwin song made famous by Fred Astaire in 1937. It's a perfect transition here from one Girl Crazy number, where the cowboys establish their lazy way of life — "Bidin' My Time" — to the next, "Could You Use Me?," in which Bobby reveals his love to Polly. Paul Tate dePoo III's set begins with a backdrop of the New York City skyline, then moves to a Western skyline, suggesting an impoverished town with rickety houses. A bar, a table, and a car help tell the story. Tristan Raines costumes the New Yorkers in elegant evening attire and the cowboys in scruffy overalls. Jon Kalbfleisch and his 14-person orchestra flawlessly accompany the show from a balcony above the stage.
With its entertaining script, sensational music, and powerful dancing, Crazy for You is a magical reminder of how thrilling American theater was long ago.
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