Touring – reviewed at Curve Leicester
In their latest touring production, Ken Ludwig’s musical comedy, Crazy For You – featuring a lush soundtrack of some of the finest Gershwin hits (‘Embraceable You’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’) – Paul Hart and the Watermill Theatre have enhanced a much-loved classic with flights of fanciful footwork and an electric cast of actor-musicians.
Stagestruck and happy-go-lucky, dancer Bobby Child (Tom Chambers) wants nothing more than to impress Broadway Follies impresario, Bela Zangler (Neil Ditt). But with a demanding mother (Kate Milner-Evans) and even more demanding fiancé (Claire Sweeney), Bobby is forced into ‘real’ work, acting as a debt collector on behalf of the American Bank. This leads him to small-town Nevada, where the only woman in the village is trying to save a run-down theatre at risk of demolition. Subsequent cases of mistaken identities, triumphant underdogs, and – naturally – love ensue.
Along with an oddly abrupt denouement, Ludwig’s book is littered with lazy stereotypes, from Western hicks to ‘golly-gosh’-type Brits – although I enjoyed the ‘hicks’ fondness of acting out famous historic duels – a nice hint towards their future theatrical endeavours. Yes, Crazy For You is charming and genuinely funny in places, yet Ludwig’s book remains mere fluff to divert us in between the showstoppers. Like many a classic Broadway show, the plot plays second fiddle to the musical numbers.
I’m a sucker for actor-musicians as it is, but I’ve truly been spoilt by Catherine Jayes’ musical arrangements and collation of multi-threat stars delivering numbers that are a feast for the eyes and ears. As the curtain rises, a voice informs us that everything we will hear over the next two and a half hours is performed live. And it is – tangibly so. Only when treated to skilled musicians playing live onstage did I realise how much automated sound populates the theatre industry (not a bad thing, might I add, merely an observation).
The act 1 finale ‘I Got Rhythm’ is a moment of pure joy where the music, dancing and sheer energy radiating from the stage all comes together in blissful harmony. The dancing is the music – and vice versa. So seamlessly is Nathan M. Wright’s choreography (!the tap routines!) incorporated into the musical arrangements that I almost forgot I was watching a fictional story – it was like being at a carnival parade on a sunny summer’s day. It was one of those instances where feeling overpowers thought – you know those times when you get itchy and restless, but in the best way – I wanted to be up there, singing, dancing, playing along!
If Tom Chambers is a little gurn-tastic, he more than makes up for it with his undeniable dance talent. He is clearly doing what he loves and it’s palpable as he taps, skips and shuffles across the stage. The farcical ‘What Causes That?’ is brilliant fun, with Chambers and Ditt pitch perfect in their mirroring. More than matching Chambers, Charlotte Wakefield’s Polly is likable, gutsy and sincere without being sickly. Their duets are a real highlight, with the extended routine in ‘Shall We Dance?’ a particular standout.
Crazy For You is highly entertaining, heart-warmingly theatrical, and packed with ingenious and witty choreography. While Ludwig’s paper-thin plot is wanting, Gershwin’s music is a treat to hear performed live, and the party atmosphere brought to the floor by Hart, Wright, Jayes and co. is guaranteed to get everyone toe-tapping along.
Crazy For You plays at Curve, Leicester until 9thJune.
Cast of Crazy for You. Credit: Richard Davenport.