Four Stars for Crazy For You at the Watermill Theatre
Judi Herman for WhatsOnStage
Ken Ludwig's quirky 1992 plot gave the Gershwin brothers this new feelgood hit, based on their 1930s Girl Crazy, but unashamedly adding some of their best-loved plums from elsewhere. Not that his hero and heroine are feeling good. Out west, in run-down gold-mining Deadrock Nevada, feisty Polly Baker and her father face ruin as bank foreclosure forces their theatre to close. Back east, stage-struck Bobby Childs - caught between his domineering mother, owner of that very bank and his scary fiancée - fails his audition for the Zangler Follies. Sent to Deadrock to enforce closure, Bobby, heavily disguised as the eponymous Zangler, falls for Polly and enlists the aid of the Follies chorines to save the theatre – by putting on a show of course.
Fourteen terrific actor/musicians share the Watermill's tiny space with the audience, spilling out of Diego Pitarch's ingeniously busy many-levelled set, working as theatre, saloon, street and desert, thanks also to Howard Hudson's cunning lighting. Caroline Sheen's splendidly bossy and fearless Polly is more than a match for the town's ill-assorted cowpokes – so laid back they're falling over as they prove gloriously in their mission statement number "I'm Bidin' My Time", led by Emile Ruddock's loose-limbed Custus.
Polly's no pushover either for pushy would-be fiancé Lank (Jeremy Legat, fiercely funny), owner of the town's saloon, who's urging the Bakers to sell him the theatre. And she scorns flaky townee Bobby – only falling for him when he dons that disguise. She's in great voice and later scrubs up sophisticated to conjure Ginger Rogers, blonde hair streaming above swirling monochrome gown.
Strictly's Tom Chambers' Bobby doesn't just dance up a storm and sing – he's a fine physical comedian, swinging from the balcony and relishing one of the funniest moments, a mirror routine with the real Zangler (Peter Dukes, equally bearded and barmy). Hollie Cassar's resourceful Tess proves a real leader, not just of the sparkling Follies' girls, but knocking the cowboys into shape as a useful men's chorus.
Those girls, Cassar, with Katrina Kleve, Serena Sandham-Davies and Anne White, radiate glamour and good-heartedness, looking gorgeous in sweet-wrapper bright bodices and smiling through Nathan M Wright's marvellous routines, often choreographed for dancers simultaneously playing instruments.
Everyone onstage can do it all and the audience loves them for it. Ned Rudkins-Stow, rooky cowboy and double bass player, is a hugely promising new graduate, having studied under Watermill company member Jeremy Harrison.
That of course is the open secret of the Watermill's successful musicals. Artistic director Paul Hart, musical arranger Catherine Jayes and onstage actor/musical director Matt Bateman bring all their experience and love of working with actor/musicians (and dancers) to create a crazy summer cocktail that sends you home on a high.
Crazy for You runs at the Watermill Theatre until 17 September.