Ken Ludwig's 'Crazy for You' hits Northport

June 23, 2009

It's a good thing the producer wouldn't take no for an answer.

When Ken Ludwig was invited to write a new book for an old Gershwin musical, he turned it down. If that had been the end of it, "Crazy for You," opening tonight at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, might never have made it to Broadway.

Texas catalog magnate Roger Horchow, a lifelong fan of George and Ira Gershwin, had acquired the rights to the brothers' songs. His dream was to produce a "new" Gershwin musical. After seeing Ludwig's "Lend Me a Tenor," a farce with a musical theme, Horchow called the playwright to make an offer. "I said, "I'm flattered,' " Lud- wig recalled, "but I have to say no. I don't know how to write a musical."

This from a guy who studied with Leonard Bernstein at Harvard. "Roger called again. 'I think you're making a big mistake. We need a funny author.' Again, I said, 'No.' "

So Horchow flew to Washington, D.C., where Ludwig lives, for a face-to-face. "Crazy for You" won the 1992 Tony for best musical. Since then, he's written another Gershwin musical, "An American in Paris." We chatted with Ludwig by phone from his D.C. home.

What was the biggest challenge in re-creating "Girl Crazy?"

They wanted me to do an adaptation. But all I really kept was the part about an Easterner going West. The original plot was silly, full of stereotypes, completely episodic with any possible excuse to fit the songs in. The trick in writing a trunk musical like "Mamma Mia!" is to weave a story so the music sounds as if it's written for the show.

Was it easier the second time, with "An American in Paris"?

The movie's so iconic, you have to be careful. Everybody's expectation is that it has something to do with Gene Kelly in Paris after the war. I wanted to reflect that in some way, but not just make a retread. We're signed up for a major producer in New York with a major star involved. Can't say who yet.

With Bernstein as your professor, you must've taken music seriously. What's your instrument?

I play piano and trombone. I'm surrounded by music all the time. But I don't think I could compose on a Broadway level. You have to choose your direction. My music background gives me an ability to work closely with composers, which is really helpful. I'll probably do another sometime. But right now, I'm writing a new comedy mystery.

"Crazy for You," the Tony-winning musical runs through Aug. 16, at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

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