Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Book by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Barbara Tomasic. A Gateway Theatre production. At the Gateway Theatre on Saturday, December 6. Continues until December 31
The musical itself is synthetic, but this Gateway Theatre production is so gorgeous that it hardly matters.
To create Crazy for You, which premiered in 1992, playwright Ken Ludwig borrowed some of the plot and five of the songs from George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 musical Girl Crazy. Then he rewrote the rest of the story and shoehorned in a bunch more tunes from the Gershwin songbook.
The result is amiably absurd. Bobby Child is from a wealthy New York banking family, but all he really wants to do is dance. When his mother decides to foreclose on a theatre in Deadrock, Nevada, she sends Bobby to do the dirty work. The rest, including Bobby’s meeting with Polly, the lovely, musically talented daughter of the theatre’s owner, is deliberately predictable.
In Act 1 especially, it’s pretty obvious that the book and songs were conceived separately. When Polly sings the aching “Someone to Watch Over Me”, for instance, is she singing about Bobby? She’s barely met him. And she hasn’t expressed romantic longing before this. So the tune sits on the landscape like a potted plant.
In Act 2, Ludwig, who is an excellent farceur—he wrote “Lend Me a Tenor”—gets into more of a groove. In the most successfully conceived interaction, Bobby disguises himself as theatrical impresario Bela Zangler, then meets the real Zangler when both of them are drunk as skunks.
Ultimately, Crazy for You just wants to entertain, and, given that goal, director Barbara Tomasic’s interpretation succeeds in spades.
Playing Bobby, Gaelan Beatty tap-dances and glides his way through the choreography with the full-bodied athleticism of Gene Kelly. Beatty’s physical comedy is also first-rate. Newcomer Kate Blackburn (Polly) serves notice that she’s a talent to watch: she’s got a beautiful suedelike quality to her voice, and charismatic confidence. Jonathan Holmes is hilarious as both Zangler and guidebook writer Eugene Fodor.
The amazing thing is that the talent doesn’t stop there. There’s a huge cast in this production—24 players—and although all but Beatty and Holmes are non-Equity, they’re rock-solid. I particularly enjoyed the charm and tight harmonies of a trio composed of Mingo (David Z. Cohen), Sam (Caleb Di Pomponio), and Moose (Ben Purych).
Everybody in the show can dance. Julie Tomaino’s choreography is wonderfully complex and challenging—I’ve never seen one-legged wing steps before—and I’ll be damned if they don’t pull it off.
Carmen Alatorre’s costumes are stellar. Early on, the chorus girls swan on in outfits that feature sculpted bodices and flirty little rows of pleats at the crotch. Collectively, they are a pink dream of heaven, and when I saw them I knew this was going to be a production to be taken seriously. (I’m not kidding.)
Set designer Marshall McMahen also hits a home run. He has constructed a rustic machine of a set that folds and flips, transforming from Broadway to Deadrock and back again.
The night I attended, the orchestra started off a bit ragged, but under Christopher King’s direction, the players pulled it together and were soon in full flight.
Crazy for You will leave you with absolutely nothing to think about, but it may be that thinking is overrated.