Maltz theater reinvents magical ‘Crazy for You’

By Hap Erstein for the Palm Beach Post

Director Mark Martino is unequivocal about Crazy for You, the Gershwin jukebox musical that he is breathing new life into at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, with previews beginning on Tuesday.

"I think it’s one of the best American musicals ever," he said. "It’s a collection of Gershwin songs, of course, but what’s magic about this show is that it reawakens the impulse that first made those songs work."

He finds it easier to explain what the Tony Award-winning best musical of 1992 is not. "It isn’t nostalgia, it’s not camp. It’s a standard archetypal MGM musical book, Fred and Ginger, Judy and Mickey, but it reimagines those songs and flies with them."

Two decades ago, playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor) was considering dusting off the cobwebs from 1930′s Girl Crazy, a show best remembered for the Broadway debut of Ethel Merman, who introduced the song, I Got Rhythm. But Ludwig found the script too flimsy for revival, so he wrote a completely different show, plugging in classic hit songs and a few obscure ones from the Gershwin library.

During its New York run, a high school senior named Shea Sullivan saw Crazy for You, and it was the reason she became a choreographer. "Sitting in the audience and watching Susan Stroman’s choreography, something in that made me desire to do that — to create the work that the dancers were doing," said Sullivan.

But Stroman’s award-winning, prop-laden dances were so memorable that every time Sullivan was offered to choreograph Crazy for You, it was to re-create those original dances, and she always declined. Then came the call from Martino, asking her to come to Jupiter to create a new take on the show, .

"I thought, ‘Here I am all these years later, an established choreographer, and what better way to solidify that this is what I was meant to be doing,’" Sullivan said.

Martino has also long been a fan of the show. "It’s a giddy musical. And it never lets up. From the opening straight through, it just keeps topping itself," he said.

The central love story is between Bobby Child, a well-to-do New Yorker who yearns to be a song-and-dance man, sent out West to foreclose on an old, dilapidated theater, and the girl who changes his mind, spunky tomboy Polly Baker.

Martino’s most recent project at the Maltz was last season’s acclaimed La Cage aux Folles, nominated for six Carbonell Awards. But he is quick to note that Crazy for You is a much larger show. "It’s about the same size cast, but it probably has double the musical numbers of La Cage, and more sets," said Martino. "Yeah, it’s bigger.

Despite its size, the show needs to seem effortless. "The audience should float with you and I think that’s my biggest challenge, to make it not look hard. The kids in the show are working hard, but we can’t let the audience see us sweat."

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