Music and Lyrics: George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin
Book: Ken Ludwig
Director: Paul Hart
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Based on the 1930 musical Girl Crazy, (where Ethel Merman made her stage debut and turned Ginger Rogers into a star overnight) and utilising the glorious back catalogue of the Gershwin brothers, Crazy For You was reworked in the 1990s by Ken Ludwig to recreate the golden age of Hollywood and Broadway musicals.
This Watermill Theatre production starring Tom Chambers, Charlotte Wakefield and Caroline Flack, stops off in Glasgow this week on its UK tour.
New York boy, Bobby Child works in the family bank, he’s sent to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a failing theatre. However, stage-struck Bobby harbours a secret desire to be a song and dance man. Instead of shutting down the business, he disguises himself as Hungarian theatre impresario Bela Zangler, and utilises the classic ‘let’s put on a show right here!’ device. There are multiple plot twists and the old ‘boy-meets-girl, girl-hates-boy-on-first-sight’ too.
Despite Ludwig’s attempts to beef up the original material, the characterisations are so thin they are positively see-through and the storyline is frankly, barmy. It’s also a mystery why, with one of the richest back catalogues in musical history, that it’s been padded out with some of the least well known Gershwin tunes.
The big hitters that remain from the original Girl Crazy are glorious: Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm and But Not For Me as are Someone to Watch Over Me from Oh, Kay! and They Can’t Take That Away From Me from Shall We Dance, there are also some tantalising snippets of An American in Paris.
The Watermill Theatre has had mixed success with the actor/musician approach employed here. The cast of 19 certainly fill up the King’s Theatre’s tight stage, but under Paul Hart’s fussy direction, they are more of a curse than a blessing. It’s all just a bit too busy visually, and the poor women who are having to give their all while hoofing are doing it while holding on to a trumpet or a violin.
Diego Pitarch’s multi-level set serves the production well, with smooth and simple transitions it transforms into Deadrock, New York, the theatre and the saloon. Howard Hudson’s clever lighting adds depth, warmth and atmosphere.
Where it does win out is in the casting of Chambers (Bobby) and Flack (Irene). Chambers looks as if he’s having a ball throughout. For someone who dreamed of being Fred Astaire as a little boy, those dreams have certainly come true. Flack is clearly talented and her American accent remains on-point throughout, but it’s a mystery that such an excellent dancer, barely gets to display what she can do. Wakefield, has an excellent singing voice, however, it’s not a singing voice entirely suited to this material, with the arrangements of the songs she sings straying into more modern territory, she also, for reasons that are hard to pinpoint, isn’t easy to warm to. The ensemble, provide excellent support throughout.
The energy levels are high from all, but despite this the second act drags and suffers from unnecessary filler material, both in song and in dance routines.
This is a corny piece of fluff, with an excellent, hard-working cast, and in some ways a welcome escape from the grim world outside, but ultimately that certain stardust that makes a production truly spectacular, is missing.
Runs until 21 October 2017| Image: Richard Davenport