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Sean Palmer as Bobby in Crazy For You

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Times Review of Crazy For You: "Four Stars! A Foam Pie in the Face of Fate."

By Libby Purves
Review of Crazy For You, Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park
For The Times
"Light-footed, wise-cracking escapism doesn't come much better than this."

It’s the sort of night where you sit down tired and grumpy, and three hours later skip happily across the damp grass wondering if there’s a party anywhere. Deep? No. Escapism? Ah yes. This is a starlit tunnel to showbiz heaven, born of a squib that the Gershwins wrote in 1930 to raise spirits after the Wall Street crash. Reworked by Ken Ludwig with a better story, it suits the moment. Bobby, the wayward hero rejects banking for showbiz: “My bonds and shares/May fall downstairs/Who cares? I’m dancing!” Cue cascade of sweetie-bright chorus girls with impossible legs tripping down the aisles and a nine-piece band under the trees sounding like ninety. It’s a feel-fab musical, a foam-pie in the face of fate.

It even helped that they had to stop five minutes in for the mop-crew to dry the stage after a brief downpour.

Ludwig’s tale, after all, is about theatre battling adversity, as an outdoor show in Britain always must. Disguised as the impresario Zangler, the runaway banker travels to Deadrock Nevada and trains the slow-witted local cowpokes to join the chorus and save their playhouse.

After the darkness of Lord of the Flies, Timothy Sheader’s return to directing in his theatre’s triumphant season conjures light and joy, wisecracks and whirling feet. The set is a nifty double revolve of tall wooden buildings: Broadway morphing into the rundown saloon in Deadrock.

Bobby is Sean Palmer, in his banker suit uncannily like a young Gerald Ratner, and in his Zangler disguise (with a Caitlin Moran streak of white hair) a good enough match for David Burt as the real Zangler to make their synchronized drunk scene a high point. Actually, there are so many peaks in Stephen Mear’s witty choreography that I couldn’t make notes for fear of missing a gag. But I do remember that I Got Rhythm, with enamel chamber-pots, tin bath, musical saw, pickaxe and lasso, drove me to the edge of idolatry.

Even Bobby and Polly (a spirited Clare Foster) have a hard time stealing the show from the cowpokes, not to mention Kim Medcalf’s wicked Naught Baby and Harriet Thorpe doubling as an English memsahib with a New York matriarch stumping through Death Valley “with my girdle on!” Dancing home after the fairy-lit finale, don’t’ watch Newsnight. Grim life can wait until the morning.

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