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Gershwin. Tap. Who can ask for anything more?

By Brett Steven Abelman for D.C. Theatre Scene
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The sentiment expressed in the jaunty tune “Slap That Bass” tells us why Signature Theatre has chosen to stage Crazy For You: “the world is a mess with politics and taxes and people grinding axes… so slap that bass and let that be your tonic.” This vivacious production is certainly good medicine for a low mood; it is impossible not to enjoy the ensemble’s exquisite tap dancing or the immortal songs of the Gershwins. I daresay, in fact, that the production is perfect.

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Danny Gardner as Bobby Child and the ensemble in Crazy for You at Signature Theatre (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)

If you already know this musical and want to see it and are only concerned about how well they pull it off – just go. Done deal.

If you aren’t as familiar with it, then your enjoyment will depend on your ability to recognize the plot as just a string to hang pearls of exuberant dance, song, and vaudeville comedy. It was an old style of show in 1992, when it was cobbled together by Ken Ludwig from various pre-war Gershwin musicals.

He mashed up the jazzy standards into a breezy story: happy-go-lucky Bobby Child (Danny Gardner) just wants to be a dancer, but is sent by his mother (Sherri L. Edelen) to foreclose a theater for her bank; upon arriving in the small Nevada town of Dead Rock, he instantly falls for rough-and-tumble Polly Baker (Ashley Spencer), tries to save the town with song and dance, and you already know the rest. Being cobbled together, the lyrics don’t always directly aid the plot, but it doesn’t matter. This is the kind of upbeat family-friendly entertainment that was rarely made new in the 90s, let alone today.

You’ll have to shrug off some antiquated gender politics and some stereotyped character bits – such as a couple moments involving the dumb blonde Patsy (played with underlying warmth by Colleen Hayes) or Bobby’s shrewish fiancée Irene (Natascia Diaz). None of it is particularly egregious or distracting, save perhaps for director Matthew Gardiner’s decision to stage the first kiss of Bobby and Polly in a different manner than the original Broadway production did. Then, it played like both of them were momentarily charmed into suddenly kissing before Polly cheerfully played-hard-to-get. Here, it reads like a forced and unwelcomed kiss on Bobby’s part, at odds with Polly’s subsequent sudden turn to cheer once the flirtation song, “Could You Use Me?”, begins. (No fault of Spencer’s, whose performance is utterly vibrant.)

Other than that, every update and fresh choice Gardiner and the company make only pumps the musical up with even more pizzazz, wit, and charm. Denis Jones’ choreography fills the stage in endlessly clever ways. The costumes of Tristan Raines are stunning, particularly the wildly geometric hats in the over-the-top finale and the riot of color he supplies the showgirl chorus. The drunken mistaken-identity scene with Bobby and impresario Bela Zangler (Bobby Smith) piles laugh upon classic laugh. The whole cast must be powered by the highest quality of magical theatre batteries, every last one of them is so effortless and effervescent. Even Paul Tate Depoo III’s set is infused with good spirit, and the thrust stage brings the energy right up to the audience’s toes.

If you’re in the market for a forget-your-cares, turn-off-your-brain live entertainment, you’ll not find a more flawlessly presented show this holiday season. Nothing can touch such classics as “I Got Rhythm” and “Embraceable You”, after all. You’re forgiven if the outdated moments or ticket price turn you off, but otherwise a good time is guaranteed.

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