by Edith Oliver
The New Yorker
March 2, 1992
The incomparable "Crazy for You," at the Shubert, is a one-evening renaissance of the American musical comedy. Although it's based on ("suggested by" might be more like it) "Girl Crazy," the 1930 Gershwin show that introduced the twenty-one-year-old Ethel Merman and featured Ginger Rogers, it is clear from the moment the overture begins that "Crazy for You" is beholden to nothing. The show is a golden treasury of nineteen Gershwin songs, only five of them from Girl Crazy. The action opens backstage at the Zangler Theatre in New York, in the nineteen-thirties, and quickly moves to Forty-Second Street, and marquees blazing with such hits as "June Moon" and "Sweet Adeline." (Nostalgia is not neglected, but nostalgia is the least of it.) Enter Harry Groener, the leading man, who dances and sings "I Can't Be Bothered Now" so well that the shock of hearing Fred Astaire's song on the lips of someone else wears off in about a minute and a half. Mr. Groener, a lanky James Stewart type, is a droll, collapsible, and apparently boneless dancer, but it soon becomes evident that, for all the proficiency and charm of the company here assembled, the three great stars of "Crazy for You" are George and Ira Gershwin and Susan Stroman, the choreographer, whose dances, under Mike Ockrent's
direction, embody most of the wit and humor of the performance. "Inspired nonsense," murmured the literate fellow on my left, catching his breath between gasps of laughter. "Inspired" will do for the entire evening.
The book, by Ken Ludwig, with a nod to Guy Bolton and John McGowan (the librettists of "Girl Crazy"), is livelier and more coherent than most librettos. It tells the story of a rich young New Yorker called Bobby (Mr. Groener), who is sent by his bossy mother to Dcadrock, Nevada, to foreclose a mortgage on the Gaiety Theatre there. He meets and falls in love with Polly, the daughter of the theatre's owner, and we're off. Polly is Jodi Benson, a graceful dancer and singer herself, and very much a leading lady of the thirties. A decision is made that the way to save the theatre is to "put on a show" (brief salute to Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney), and Bobby pretends to be the Hungarian impresario Bela Zangler. Zangler (Bruce Adler) eventually appears, causing delightful confusion. All ends in triumph in the resplendent interior of the old theatre.
"Crazy for You" is everything a musical comedy should be. Never has there been a more lavish score or nimbler lyrics, and seldom has there been more fun. The numbers are felicitously assigned. Ethel Merman's "I Got Rhythm" becomes a number for Mr. Groener, Miss Benson, and the rest of the company, and it works. "Embraceable You" is sung with requisite charm by Mr. Groener and Miss Benson. "Bidin' My Time" is safely entrusted to the Manhattan Rhythm Kings (Brian Nalepka, Tripp Hanson, and Hal Shane); Mr. Nalepka, in another terrific number, slaps that bass to invigorating effect. The dancing is a never-ending source of astonishmentâ€”the agile players leap over balconies and bannisters, and no surface goes untrespassed. The movement of the scenes, under Mr. Ockrent's masterly direction, is quicker than the eyeâ€”on and off the streets, in and out of the local saloon, and, finally, in the Gaiety Theatre. Among the leapers, by the way, a stubby acrobat named Ray Roderick very much impressed me. The acting is O.K., and some of it is better than that. Besides the players I've already mentioned, I admired Jane Connell, now gray-haired, as the bossy mother; Michele Pawk, as Bobby's snooty fiancĂ©e from New York; Beth Leavel, as Zangler's girlfriend; and, above all, John Hillner, as a tough saloonkeeper in Nevada. Robin Wagner designed the gorgeous settings, William Ivey Long the gorgeous costumes, and Pan1 Gallo the eloquent lighting. Some people, I suppose, might say that most of the best numbers occur in the first act, but, as the Gershwins once said, who cares? "Crazy for You"â€”all two and a half hours of itâ€”is a joy to hear and to behold. For the stagestruck, it is heaven on earth. â€”EDITH OLIVER