Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Big tap dance routines and even bigger set pieces dominate the Watermill Theatre’s touring production of Crazy For You at the Playhouse, but at the expense of the chemistry in the big romances of the show.
It’s not for lack of trying, however, with one-time Strictly winner Tom Chambers giving his all as reluctant banker Bobby Child and Charlotte Wakefield owning the piece as fiery Polly Baker, daughter of the owner of the faded Gaiety Theatre in Deadrock, Nevada, which Bobby is sent to foreclose.
This is the retread of the Gershwin brothers depression era musical, Girl Crazy, updated in the 1990s with an added string of Gershwin hits and a shiny new plot for them to squeeze into – with varying levels of naturalness.
Chambers delivers each and every one of his numbers with a sense of their flare while allowing his full ability to shine through. What director Paul Hart doesn’t allow him to do, however, is develop his character through the show. So, while his opening number in which he regales big shot director Bela Zangler with his hoofing credentials is packed with a yearning to dance, such puppyish attitudes never really recur when he gets to Nevada and is immediately smitten by Polly Baker.
You never again get the feeling of a character who is in love with the idea of song and dance, of becoming a hoofer in a Broadway show – just of an actor intent on showing off his abilities. And that is a big miss for a backstage musical which does its plot development by numbers.
Chambers certainly has the skill, however. There is a great moment in Nevada where he jumps from a high-up platform onto the top of an upright piano where he then proceeds to knock out a big tap routine.
There is a lot more to Charlotte Wakefield, however. In terms ability alone, she deserves to be the above-the-title star of the show. Wakefield has the vocal chops to deliver every nuance of Gershwin’s music, while she can get right in there when it comes to the dance routines. Moreover, her creation of Polly – falling in love with Bobby and out again when she discovers his real reason for being in Deadrock – has a level of complexity not elsewhere apparent.
Hart and MD Catherine Jayes follow the current fashion for casts who can sing, dance and play an instrument, heralding their intent in the opening seconds of the show, with that opening clarinet solo from Rhapsody in Blue.
The use of actor musicians makes for busy staging, over-pernickety at times but mostly serving the musical itself. And it does mean that you get to see trombonist deliver his sardonic twisting blasts and appreciate the music’s role in the storytelling a lot more than when the band are hidden in the pit.
And it really makes sense in Slap that Bass, with Ned Rudkins-Stow going great guns as the supposedly dim Moose, who picks up the double bass and proceeds to drive the number.
The cast of Crazy for You. Pic: Richard Davenport
Nathan M Wright’s choreography really picks up on that use of instruments on stage, largely working them in unobtrusively as necessary. But it really takes off with the female chorus of Zangler girls who join Bobby in Nevada to help save the Gaiety. They get some great ensemble numbers that really recall the numbers in films from that era.
But, like the numbers in films of that era, they do tend to go on a bit. And however much Wakefield might delight with her I’ve got Rhythm as the first act closer, which builds and builds and builds some more towards the interval, there is not enough sheer dance talent on stage to sustain it for the length of time it goes on.
That said, Chambers’ mirroring routine with Neil Ditt as Zangler in What Causes That is properly clever and very well delivered. Claire Sweeney, as Bobby’s long-term fiancé Irene, is fabulously saucy in Naughty Baby with Christopher Fry as Lank, the bar-owner who wants to turn the Gaiety into a casino. Less hot is Stiff Upper Lip, a woefully misguided, union flag-waving hymn to perceived English traits.
There’s a lot to enjoy here in a production which brings a great deal of talent to the stage and shows it off well. It’s just that it gets caught up in the fiddly bits of the story when bigger, bolder strokes could serve the plot better.