Ah, to Be Young and in Love. And Poor.
Theater Review | 'Crazy for You' at the John W. Engeman Theatre at Northport
By ANITA GATES
The whole rich-poor thing was big in the 1930s. You know, movies about a rich boy who pretends to be poor — or a rich boy who would rather be poor. Bobby Child, the hero of “Crazy for You,” which is set in that decade, is in the second category.
Bobby, disarmingly played by Eric Santagata in the John W. Engeman Theater’s saucy production, is a good-hearted upper-crust New Yorker and Harvard graduate who wants no part of the banking career his domineering mother, Lottie, has planned for him. Bobby longs to be part of the theater.
He finally has his big opportunity when Lottie (Joan St. Onge) sends him to Deadrock, Nev., to foreclose on a building that turns out to be an old theater. Although Deadrock is a sleepy town — consider the townsfolk’s lazy musical number “Bidin’ My Time” — there’s one guy sitting in a corner reading Variety, and sweet Polly Baker (Pilar Millhollen), the theater owner’s daughter, has a singing voice to thrill angels.
Mr. Santagata and Ms. Millhollen don’t have a milligram of chemistry, but since “Crazy for You” is all about artifice, that isn’t a fatal flaw: They give endearing performances, as does the rest of the cast, expertly directed by Alan Souza.
It may seem strange that “Crazy for You,” which won the Tony Award for best musical in 1992, was billed on Broadway as a new Gershwin show. George Gershwin died young in 1937, and Ira, his lyricist brother, has been gone since 1983. But Ken Ludwig, who was a young Washington lawyer when he wrote the 1985 musical “Lend Me a Tenor” in his spare time, wrote the book for “Crazy for You,” taking a few plot elements and several songs from “Girl Crazy,” a Gershwin show that opened on Broadway in 1930. He added some other Gershwin tunes and ended up with a hit.
In 1992, the show’s biggest surprise was Susan Stroman’s choreography. Ms. Stroman, now a multiple Tony Award winner, was a newcomer then, and her inventive dance moves were a revelation. Vic DiMonda has done a sterling job recreating her choreography, which at one point turns showgirls into pendulums on pickaxes. There are more traditional dance moves too, some of them very Fred and Ginger. This is the kind of show in which three characters are chatting when suddenly two of them freeze, a spotlight hits the third person, and he or she begins to sing. It is also the kind of show in which almost everybody ends up in love, no matter how unlikely the match.
These romances play out to the tune of some eternally fabulous Gershwin numbers, nicely delivered — including “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “But Not for Me,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” — and some lesser-known songs like “Stiff Upper Lip” and “I Can’t Be Bothered Now.” It’s clear why some never became classics.
Mr. Ludwig’s affection for Depression-era stories is obvious in both plot and dialogue. “Can you give me a room and bath?” asks Irene (Erin Mosher), Bobby’s princessy fiancée. Lank (Michael Sample), the local saloon owner, answers, “I can give you a room, but you’ll have to take your own bath.”
Both Bobby and Lank (Michael Sample) love Polly, but she’s not interested. Bobby pretends to be the theater impresario Bela Zangler (Brian Gonzales) because he wants Polly’s dad to save the theater from foreclosure. (Come to think of it, the whole rich-poor thing is pretty relevant these days, too.) The only way to do that is to import some showgirls, teach the local boys to perform and, yes, put on a show.
The Northport production looks great, particularly the delicious women’s fashions from Michael Bottari and Ronald Case. But my goodness, the showgirls are practically naked in the final number. A song title from the musical comes to mind: Naughty baby!