The Cast of Crazy For You
Photo by Alastair Muir


Four Stars for Crazy for You, at The Novello Theatre in London's West End

By Sarah Hemming for The Financial Times

You could perhaps make the case that this Gershwin musical, set during the Great Depression, speaks earnestly to a contemporary audience faced with economic gloom, but you would struggle to make much headway. One of the joys of this glorious show (fashioned in 1992 by Ken Ludwig from the 1930 Girl Crazy) is that it never takes itself too seriously. With its daft plot, corny jokes and cast of squealing chorus girls and hunky cowboys, it walks the narrow line between homage and spoof – and Timothy Sheader’s excellent staging pitches it perfectly. His wittily detailed revival originated in Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre this summer; now it shifts indoors, but loses none of its sunny disposition.

The plot? Well, if we must. Handsome banker Bobby Childs works under the thumb of his overbearing mother but dreams of a life in showbiz. His attempts to impress New York impresario Bela Zangler with his tap routine come to nought (in no small part because he winds up standing on his potential employer’s toe). Sent to sleepy Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a rundown theatre, he finds love (in the theatre owner’s daughter, Polly) and a cause. He determines to impersonate Zangler, stage a Broadway extravaganza in the crumbling playhouse, pay off the debt, win the girl and turn dust into stardust. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot, naturally, though Ludwig doesn’t fully exploit the comic potential of both Bobby’s bossy fiancée and the real Zangler turning up in town. It is hard to mind, though, because the show is carried on a tide of unforgettable Gershwin hits (“I Got Rhythm”, “Embraceable You”, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”) and delivered with irresistible mischief, charm and energy. Sean Palmer is excellent as Bobby: warm, personable and quick on his toes. Clare Foster’s Polly matches him with a plain-speaking, hard-drinking Polly who nonetheless brings sweet yearning to “Someone to Watch Over Me”.

Above all, this is an exuberant ensemble show and the Stephen Mear’s endlessly inventive dance routines (honouring Susan Stroman’s original choreography) sweep it along. There are a few problems – you can’t always hear the lyrics when both chorus and orchestra are going full tilt – but this is a tonic for gloomy times. And perhaps there is a message, after all, in its uplifting endorsement of the power of art.

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