Boston Area Gets Wild and Crazy
by Jan Nargi
Sunday, May 13, 2007
If "The Wild Party" is the yin of musical theater romance, then "Crazy for You" at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly is the yang. This classic boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl lollipop is so unapologetically sweet that it is guaranteed to give your brain a sugar rush.
But that's exactly the intention of this good-hearted and fast-paced valentine to the days when Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly glided and tapped their ways across the screen to songs like "Someone to Watch Over Me," "I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "Embraceable You." All these wonderful George and Ira Gershwin tunes and more are wrapped in a beautifully crafted, madcap confection of a book by Ken Ludwig that makes this 1992 Tony Winner for Best Musical seem like it was actually an original musical written in a much beloved bygone era.
At the heart of the story is the boy, Bobby Child, a poor little rich kid from New York who would rather dance upon the wicked stage than work in his mother's evil old bank, and Polly Baker, the pert and feisty Deadrock, Nevada only-gal-in-town whose bankrupt theater Bobby has come to foreclose. Before he serves papers and reveals his true identity, however, the two – of course – fall in love. A few songs and dances later, she discovers his real name, runs him out of town, and laments her misfortune in both business and love. But wait! Bobby returns in disguise, as the famous producer Bela Zangler, and by golly, he's going to help Polly put on a theater-saving show. After several entirely predictable plot twists that include a villainous saloon keeper, a bevy of chorus girls, two British travel writers, and a town full of single men who just happen to sing really well, "Crazy for You" ends with everyone living happily ever after.
The beauty of this winning pre-cursor to the dreaded juke box musical is how well Ludwig fits the Gershwin repertoire into his delightful book and how comically yet affectionately he mocks the genre he so unabashedly embraces. The only thing missing from his clever vaudeville-style jokes are the rim shots to punctuate them. And then, of course, there are the songs – 19 of them – including "Shall We Dance?" "Slap That Bass," "The Real American Folk Song," "What Causes That?" "But Not for Me," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It."
This North Shore Music Theatre production does every one of those Gershwin songs proud. Its 11-piece orchestra provides blissful accompaniment to the singers and dancers who execute Edward Reichert's music direction and director Richard Stafford's choreography with just the right mix of romantic sincerity and unbridled enthusiasm. Songs are interpreted to suit the elegance of New York in one scene and the laconic drawl of the west in the next. Big production numbers have the company lending extra percussion to their taps by dancing with chairs, tin pans, washboards and spoons. The boys and girls also dance on top of an assortment of set pieces, adding visual interest to routines that could otherwise be limited by North Shore's theater-in-the-round stage.
As Bobby Jeffry Denman is a dapper and appealing song and dance man reminiscent of both Astaire and Kelly in his grace and athleticism. Amanda Watkins as Polly is a tough-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside delight as she gently reveals through beautifully rendered song the feminine romantic underneath the frontier feminist. Dan Amboyer as the wild and wooly saloon keeper Lank Hawkins and Lyn Philistine as the no-nonsense society dame Irene Roth who tames him throw sparks before, during and after their fate is sealed. And North Shore favorite David Coffee once again nearly steals the show as his real Bela Zangler pairs up with Denman's fake Zangler in a drunken synchronized burlesque that is a marvel of comic and choreographic timing.
Suggestive set pieces, including a 1930s-style automobile, move in and out and up and down fluidly as part of the action, and lighting is bright and bouncy for the rootin' tootin' production numbers but soft and dreamy for the romantic solos and duets. The show itself is so good and the pace so snappy that the gorgeous costumes almost get overlooked. It's not until the plot takes us back to a street outside a theater in New York that we appreciate the elegance of the period evening wear adorning the debutantes and dandies.
"Crazy for You" is a lighthearted romp that lets you check your worries at the door. It's two hours of lovable fun that by the end will have you singing, "I Can't Be Bothered Now."