Book: Ken Ludwig
Music: George Gershwin
Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
Director: Paul Hart
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Toe-tapping its way into Milton Keynes this week as part of its U.K tour is Watermill Theatre’s production of Crazy For You starring Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers and Claire Sweeney whose theatre and TV career has covered two decades. Originally written by the Gershwin brothers as Girl Crazy in the 1930s at a time when audiences needed to get away from the dire effects of the Great Depression, the musical was re-worked by Ken Ludwig in the 1990s with the inclusion of extra songs from the renowned duo. From the moment the show opened on Broadway in early 1992, it played to packed theatres and was winner of several awards, including the Tony, during its run.
It’s is the classic story of New York guy, Bobby Childs, who works in his well-to-do family’s bank but whose secret desire is to star on Broadway. He just loves to sing and dance. Against his will, Bobby is sent to the quiet backwater town of Deadrock in Nevada with the sole purpose of debt-collecting from a failing family theatre and thus forcing its closure. However, he encounters and gradually falls for one Polly Baker, who is not only beautiful but very assertive and happens to be the theatre owner’s daughter. Bobby hatches a plan to save the theatre by putting on a show, disguising himself as Bela Zangler the acclaimed theatre impresario from Hungary. Thus he will achieve his dream and get his girl but there are twists and turns aplenty not forgetting his lovely but demanding girlfriend, Irene, from back home…’tis almost a Shakespearean style farce.
Tom Chambers, as Bobby Childs, puts all his energy into the rôle and, although he takes a while to warm up, he shows himself to be a wonderful dancer, tap dancer and even gymnast at times. He is not a natural singer but does a sound job on most of his songs. He has an easy charm which shines through. Charlotte Wakefield, in the role of Polly, brings that special something to the stage the moment she appears. She has a real presence, even dynamism, about her and uses her rich, powerful voice well. Claire Sweeney brings us Irene and in many ways seems under-used until the second part of the show when she demonstrates her excellent voice and sassy moves singing Naughty Baby. Her comic timing and delivery of the many one-liners are spot on throughout.
The ensemble exhibits amazing talent in singing, dancing and the playing of instruments. And all done with equal gusto. It’s great to see the music played live on the stage.
Nathan M Wright’s choreography is sharp, uses the stage well and is perfectly matched to the Gershwin songs. Thus there is a whole gamut of dance styles as well as the comic physical movements, the latter oft beautifully executed by Chambers. Diego Pitarch’s set design is simple but very effective and slickly moved around.
Initial problems with the sound, quickly overcome, cannot detract from the overall feeling of a good old-fashioned musical and when one adds in such memorable tunes as I Got Rhythm and They Can’t Take That Away From Me, who could ask for anything more, as the song says.
Runs until 24 March 2018 | Image: Richard Davenport