Chichester Festival Theatre – until 4 September 2022
It’s the hottest day on record, the south coast swelters as we all look for a way to cool off… and on stage at Chichester Festival Theatre it is hotter still as the venue’s big summer musical is launched. So as I write this I’m thankful for two things – the air-conditioning that was added in Chichester’s 2014 relaunch and the sheer joy of the Gershwins’ timeless tunes.
It’s that glorious music that carries Crazy For You. Sure, there are some funny lines, and the plot has the classic boy-meets-girl-but-doesn’t-realise-the-moment-is-special trope, but ultimately, it’s the songs and the opportunities for dance that the music provides that lifts this from being a Gershwin greatest hits show to a truly great piece of theatre.
It’s a smart move then to bring back someone involved in the original production, in this case Susan Stroman who choreographed the original Broadway production and now in Chichester directs as well. Here she opts to play everything broad, and it takes a couple of scenes for things to get going but this pays off with some wonderful comedic moments later on.
The dance is lavish as might be expected and the only real complaint is that she doesn’t make good use of the thrust stage – most scenes are played straight on and in a couple of scenes the placement of actors across the stage means those sitting to the side spend their scene staring at the back of an ensemble members head as they can’t see past it to watch the action.
These are quibbles though and the show is bright, bold and bouncy – a shot in the arm given how lethargic we all feel after the latest heatwave.
Charlie Stemp, taking the lead role, appeared last at Chichester as an unknown. He returns a recognised stage star and it shows – he has a magnetic presence, a natural charm and a knack for comedy that put me in mind of Lee Evans – who was exellent in Stroman’s production of The Producers some years ago. Stemp is quite the dancer, acts nicely and holds a tune well – but Bobby is a part that requires charisma above all and this is where he shines.
Opposite him we have Carly Anderson whose Polly is less fiery than in previous productions I’ve seen but has an inner steel. She sings beautifully and I defy anyone not to be moved when she performs ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’.
The supporting roles are crammed with some deft performances, notably Tom Edden’s wry theatre impresario – his mirror duet with Stemp is a personal highlight – and Merryl Ansah as Bobby’s socially driven former fiancée.
The ensemble provide a whirlwind of dance and vocals with most everyone given a moment to shine. This then is a superb slice of musical theatre and one that I feel is destined to have a long life beyond the confines of Chichester.
Until 4th September. For more info visit https://www.cft.org.uk/whats-on/event/crazy-for-you