Book: Ken Ludwig
Music and lyrics: George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Director: Paul Hart
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
The theatre announcer explains that all the music will be played live on stage. A refreshing change considering the musicians are usually hidden away in the orchestra pit. Actor musicianship has been a recent trend in theatre for over decade now and provides a modern twist to this golden age American musical.
Crazy For You, originally had a different title (Girl Crazy) when it was written by the Gershwin brothers in the 1930s. Americans turned to the theatre for entertainment and escapism in the decade of the Depression. Fast forward to the 1990s and the show was revamped into what it is now, adapting it for a modern audience, and utilising a catalogue of Gershwin songs. It opened on 19th February 1992 on Broadway, winning many awards and the hearts of the public.
Bobby lives in New York, is the son of a wealthy banking family, and adores the world of Broadway. In Deadrock, Nevada, Polly is the daughter of a proprietor who owns a failed theatre. When sent to close it down, Bobby falls for Polly and instead decides to save the theatre by doing what he does best, putting on a show. This is a story of romance, unrequited love, mistaken identity, and feel good dancing.
This production challenges the performers, not only do they have to fit the bill for the triple threat skills of acting, singing, and dancing but they have to play instruments at the same time too. Tom Chambers, well known for appearing on Strictly Come Dancing, is animated and characterful in the role of Bobby. However, the lower notes of his singing voice are rather quiet, not as rich and deep in tone as one might expect to hear in a performance of one of Gershwin’s songs. The higher range in his voice has a lovely tone though. Unfortunately, his vocal and accent work makes him sound like he is pressing his voice, therefore it lacks in volume and power. Chambers wonderfully shine’s however, in a solo dance number in act two, bringing flair, charm, and joy to the role. Polly is a no-nonsense, toe-tapping young woman played by Charlotte Wakefield. Her acting through song, is tremendous, really engaging the audience.
With regards to the script, some of the jokes land and others don’t. Some of the humour feels a little outdated and in poor taste, for example the moment when a female choreographer instructs “hands on chest” as a dance move to a group of men and they approach her chest instead falls especially in the current climate a little uncomfortable. Some of Paul Hart’s directing decisions are questionable too, like when the actors are onstage, talking at the saloon bar before act two begins. Or when Chambers breaks the fourth wall to give a woman on the front row his shoe. Both moments are superfluous.
Nathan M. Wright is a choreographer, who makes sure every movement and transition is executed with precision and fluidity. A range of dance styles are employed in the show from high energy tap to the elegance of ballroom. Classic Broadway movements blend with playful choreography. Playful in how the actors interact with objects, the space, and with each other. This really enhances the rhythm of Gershwin’s music and is a pleasure to watch. There are elements of physical comedy in there too, for example when a beer is slid over the bar top to Bobby but he fails to catch it, laughably reflecting what a culture change the Wild West is from New York to him.
A theatre within a theatre set design by Diego Pitarch mirrors Bobby’s dream of being on the Broadway stage, his life and dreams converge into one. Howard Hudson’s lighting design develops this idea, in the acknowledgement that stage lights are used, rather than blending in with the production. While individual performances are technically sharp and energetic, the ensemble dynamic is not there, the only time it comes close to being there is the act one finale. As a result, the show lacks a certain sparkle and magic.
Runs until 2nd December 2017 | Image: Richard Davenport