Crazy for You
At the Drury Lane Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Oakbrook Terrace-Too often area musical theaters import performers to star in local productions when there are Chicagoland actors who are as good or better. No such accusation can be filed against the Drury Lane Theatre for bringing in Clyde Alves and Robyn Hurder to star in a revival of the Gershwin musical “Crazy for You.” The talented duo carries the show to glorious heights, even if they don’t carry Chicagoland addresses.
“Crazy or You” is a reworking of the 1930 George Gershwin musical “Girl Crazy,” following the precedent of the 1983 remake of Gershwin’s 1927 hit “Funny Face,” renamed “My One and Only.” Both revivals tossed out the original claptrap books and preserved only a handful of the original songs, liberally borrowing from elsewhere in the Gershwin canon of stage and film numbers. “Crazy for You” even includes a few Gershwin songs rediscovered in a New Jersey warehouse in 1982.
“Crazy for You” uses a new book by playwright Ken Ludwig, an improbable and corny story about how a young man (Bobby Childs) and young woman (Polly Baker) rescue an old theater in the Nevada ghost town of Deadrock from the clutches of the town’s hotel owner who wants the theater property to expand his real estate holdings. There is the usual drill of comic confusions and, of course, Bobby and Polly start out with the inevitable romance misunderstandings that block the course of true love, but by the end of the evening the couple and every other main character is paired off romantically.
Photo credit: Brett Beiner
The libretto serves mainly to provide interludes between the show’s magnificent songs. There are five numbers from the original score—“But Not for Me,” “Embraceable You,” “Biding My Time,” “Could You Use Me,” and “I Got Rhythm,” which became Ethel Merman’s signature song from her performance in the 1930 production. The revival adds outside Gershwin hits like “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
The success of “Crazy for You” rides on the dance numbers as much as the Gershwin hits. The 1992 production featured Susan Stroman’s creative choreography, picked up at Drury Lane by Matt Crowle, who wears both the choreography and director hats with distinction. As director, Crowle recognizes that the dialogue and plot are twaddle, but he still keeps the mood buoyant and extracts a gratifying amount of humor, and occasionally even wit, from the low comedy proceedings.
Crowle picks up on some of Stroman’s original choreography, like the Western townspeople pounding away on pots and pans in the “I Got Rhythm” number and turning the chorus girls into string basses with the assistance of lengths of ropes in “Slap That Bass.” Crowle has also assembled a terrific high-energy chorus of attractive and talented female singer-hoofers (and occasionally effective comedians) who particularly distinguish themselves as first-rate tap dancers. The choreography draws on the honored traditions of Astaire and Rogers dancing, the choreography of Busby Berkeley, and the peppy “let’s put on a show” tradition from the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie musicals of the 1940’s.
Photo Credit: Brett Beiner
The above comments are lead-ins to celebrating the accomplishments of Clyde Alves and Robyn Hurder. As Bobby Childs, Alves gets pride of place only because he’s in nearly all the musical numbers Alves is a wonderful song and dance man with an ingratiating stage presence. Hurder has plenty of stage time but for too much of the story she wrongheadedly spurns the romantic pleas of the leading man before succumbing inevitably and predictably by the final curtain. Individually and collectively the pair elevate the production with their high spirits, humor, and five-star singing and dancing skills. And the two have real chemistry as they lurch toward their romantic happy ending.
Hurder has less character to play with than Alves but she has a marvelous singing voice, clear and strong and expressive, knocking us out with the classic Gershwin love songs “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not for Me.” By taking their characters seriously, they actually give the libretto a dramatic heft that could be lost in all the foolery.
The two guest stars are buttressed by a solid supporting cast, including many familiar local performers, notably Larry Adams, Roger Mueller, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Rod Thomas, and Erica Stephan. The male chorus does fine work, especially William Carlos Angulo, Justin Brill, and Harter Clingman, who looks big enough to play tight end for the Bears.
The female chorus is a cumulative honor roll—Holly Stauder, Erica Evans, Laura Savage, Julie Baird, Courtney Cerny, Rachel Hafell, Ashley Lanyon, Kristina Larson, Hanah Rose Nardone, Laura Savage, and Lucy Zukaitis. Every time they took the stage, the theater lit up.
The design team locates the production credibly in the 1930’s, perfectly replicated by Caitlin McLeod’s period costumes. Jeffery Kmiec’s set designs take us smoothly from the backstage of an old Broadway theater to the main street of dusty Deadrock, a multi-level saloon, and the old Deadrock theater that provided the flimsy excuse for the whole song-and-dance-drenched evening. Props also to Heather Gilbert’s lighting and Ray Nardelli’s sound. Shawn Stengel directs the fulsome-sounding orchestra (Roberta Duchak is music director).
“Crazy for You” may be a featherweight concoction but the Gershwin score is Olympian and the choreography is delectable. It may not have the dramatic heft of a “Fun Home,” but it’s irresistible entertainment, with a core of sophistication and professionalism masking all the silliness. Counting the recently closed “Smokey Joe’s Café,” the theater can congratulate itself on presenting the two best musical stagings of the season back to back. Here’s an idea for Drury Lane. Bring back the show’s entire cast and artistic brain trust for a revival of “My One and Only.”
“Crazy for You” runs through January 8 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane. Performances are Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Thursday at 1:30 and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $45 to $60. Call 630 530 0111 or visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.
The show gets a rating of 4 stars.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com November 2016
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