Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Crazy for You

In 1930 Ethel Merman starred in the first production of the George and Ira Gershwin musical, “Girl Crazy,” the story of a spoiled New York rich kid who learns about life , love and everything else on a Nevada dude ranch.  In 1943, Judy Garland and Micky Rooney brought the story to the big screen, with choreography by the infamous Busby Berkeley.

In 1992, with the blessing of the Gershwin heirs, Ken Ludwig took another look at the old chestnut, did some extensive rewriting of the plot line, and produced “Crazy for You,” the story of a spoiled New York rich kid who learns about life, love and everything else in the sleepy town of Deadrock, Nevada.  The show won the 1992 Tony for Best New Musical and is this week’s Music Circus production, under the direction of James Brennan, with Choreography by Deanna L. Dys and musical direction by Dennis Castellano.

This is an old fashioned musical in every sense of the word, with predictable plot line (boy meets girl, girl dumps boy, boy finds a way to win girl back), lots of dancing, snazzy show girls, and those Gershwin songs anybody of a certain age will have known from their cradle: “Bidin’ My Time,” “Embraceable You,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” for starters.

In a show like this, it is the cast which makes or breaks it and the Music Circus cast is a stellar one.  David Engel, in the role of Bobby Child is a two-time recipient of the L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Award for best actor in a musical for his performance in this role.  Engel has the grace of Fred Astaire, combined with the athleticism of Gene Kelly.  His Bobby is a guy who is not going to be stuck under Mama’s thumb working in a bank, but wants to fulfill his dream of being a performer, and along the way it won’t hurt if he can dump his overbearing fiancee and find the love of his life.

Beverly Ward, as Bobby’s Polly Baker, has toured with “Crazy for You” and garnered a Helen Hayes nomination for best actress in a musical while playing Polly at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  She’s a feisty, independent woman stuck in a one-horse town, but determined to take control of her life.  Ward is also a talented dancer who is able to bring all that Ginger Rogers-esque grace to the stage.

While the story centers on these two, there is a fine cast of supporting players including Stephen Berger as Bella Zangler a famous theatrical producer in love with Tess (Joann Hess); Eleanor Glockner is Bobby’s indomitable mother, Lottie Child; Jessica Wright is Bobby’s overbearing fiancee Elaine; Jim Bisom is the descriptively named Lank Hawkins, owner of Deadrock’s town saloon and in love with Polly; Sacramento News & Review film critic Jim Lane does an excellent job as Polly’s Dad, Everett Baker, hanging on to his deserted theater and remembering the glory days when his late wife graced its stage.

Costumes by Steven Howard and Bob Miller are dazzling, especially for the show girls.

Scenic designer Michael Schweikardt and Lighting designer Pamila Gray have created a wonderful look for this musical.  Especially noteworthy are the Broadway scenes, with theatrical marquees represented both by pieces lowered from the flies, and projected onto the walls.

“Crazy for You” is not a show that is going to force you to think, or present any political agenda, or make the audience uncomfortable with questionable lyrics or overly loud music.  But it will set your toe to tapping and leave you humming a tune or two as you leave the theater, and remind you of a simpler time when all a musical had to do was entertain.

No comments: