Crazy for You
George Gershwin (Music), Ira Gershwin (Lyrics); Ken Ludwig (Book)
|The Cast of Crazy for You|
Choreography that dares you not to tap your own toes. Comedy full of corn that is impossible not to laugh out loud – and I do mean loud. A love triangle where two of the three are the same person. And the Gershwin Brothers’ songs plucked from the Great American Songbook scattered amongst all the hilarity and the tapping, twirling, twisting bodies – songs that tempt you time and again to hum along.
All this and more awaits the quickly enthralled and completely entranced audience at Bay Area Musicals’ season opener, Crazy for You, a seductive romantic comedy that was the 1992 Tony winner for Best Musical with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and a book by Ken Ludwig. Brimmingwith music repackaged from not only the songwriting team’s 1930 film musical, Girl Crazy, but also from several of their films and stage musicals like Oh, Kay!, Shall We Dance, and A Damsel in Distress, Crazy for You bursts at the seams with decades-old favorites like “Embraceable You,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “I Got Rhythm.” And while these songs are a delight to rediscover in BAM’s contagiously fun production, it is the choreography and comedy that really reign supreme in the two hours, thirty minute high-kicking and high-jinxing affair of love’s wacky whims.
We immediately learn two things about Conor DeVoe and about the New York, rich guy he depicts as his Bobby Child tries to impress a nonplussed Bela Zangler to hire him for the Zangler Follies in the opening number, “K-ra-zy for You.” Both the depicted and thus the real can tap up a storm, and both have a personality that fills the stage every time Bobby (and thus Conor) appears.
|Conor DeVoe & Follies Girls|
In number after number, Conor DeVoe wows the audience with dance moves from every genre of the 1930s and ‘40s, but it is when he taps that he knocks the socks off the particular number. But also along the way, he is a clown at heart in the mode of some of the great stage and screen comic actors of the era (think a young Cary Grant). His ability to stumble, stretch, and fall like a floppy doll; to electrify his entire being from top to bottom when he conceives a sudden scheme, or to become a puppy dog when his true love appears before him are just some of the ways Mr. DeVoe’s Bobby wins our hearts and our applause. Where he falls a bit short is when he sings the songs of the Gershwins, bringing a good voice but not one with power, depth, and nuance that the Brothers’ musical icons totally deserve.
After Bobby’s backstage tap-terrific audition ends with his landing on Mr. Zangler’s toe (and thus not getting the job), Bobby is confronted by his nagging mom, Lottie, who wants him finally to join the family’s bank, and his equally unrelenting socialite financé, Irene, who wants him to end their five-year engagement at the altar. Bobby wants neither, dreaming still of being on stage in a tap and line-dance fantasy, “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” with Follies Girls suddenly appearing in his vivid imagination as his back-ups.
To escape the current reality of the two warring women of his life (who neither one like the other), he takes the lesser of two evils — his mom’s assignment of going to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose a rundown theatre. We soon see that the town’s name matches its no-action ambiance as we hear the snail-slow, note-sliding lament “Biding Our Time,” our first glance of the show’s outstanding male singers and dancers, the Cowboys.
|Danielle Altizio & Conor DeVoe|
This is a town that only has one woman — a pretty, full-of-spunk-and-spirit, Polly Baker. While the town’s hotel/saloon owner, Lank Hawkins, insists with some pushiness and puffed-up pride that he is the man for her, she is not interested. When Bobby arrives and collapses in the middle of town (having walked a mile in the high desert from the nearest train station), he awakens in spits and starts to a vision of his destiny, a somewhat concerned Polly, singing in his own dream world of love-sick-silly antics, “Things Are Looking Up.” After he recovers, he step-by-step persuades the reluctant Polly to join him in a dance (“Shall We Dance”) that slowly picks up speed and style as he convinces her to “put on your dancing shoes” and “dance whenever you can,” ending in a grand-style swoop and a first kiss.
Danielle Altizio has her first real chance to test out her Gershwin as her Polly expresses her small-town loneliness in “Someone to Watch Over Me,” bringing vocals that are often spot-on attractive and solid but at other times, falter in key a bit in their sustained phrases. But like Conor DeVoe and his Bobby, Ms. Altizio more than makes it up in her own dancing ability to be Ginger to his Gene. She also is the perfect plot ploy as she righteously rejects Bobby when she realizes he is the person sent here to foreclose the old theatre where her deceased mom once performed. He has already long given that up and actually wants to put on a show to raise money for the payment, having secured the help of the vacationing Zangler Follies Girls who somehow picked Deadrock as their ideal resort-of-choice. (Only in a musical could we be asked to believe in such a coincidence … and have no trouble doing so!)
|The Chorus of Crazy for You|
Polly still does not trust him, leaving Bobby no choice but to disguise himself as Bella Zangler himself, now arriving once again in his new self in order to take up the cause and direct a show to save the theatre. He transforms a bungling bunch of cowboys into a high-stepping set of partners for the Follies Girls in one of the night’s several blockbuster ensemble numbers, “Slap That Bass,” where ropes become the strings that tie the knock in forming a first-class, dance show. In doing so, the Zangler-in-disguise wins Polly’s heart, leading the two to sing “Embraceable You,” with Polly believing she is now in love with Zangler while Bobby is now in heaven in her arms.
Being a musical, much more is to come in mix-ups, new love match-ups, and miracles with happy endings. Along the way, we will be entertained by fabulous, stage-filling numbers of dancers, all co-choreographed with full flair and fling by Matthew McCoy and Danielle Cheiken. A prime example is the Act-One ending, “I’ve Got Rhythm.” In an eye-popping symphony of cowboys playing instruments ranging from saws, hammers, and shovels to tire pumps, mining picks, and gold pans, the guys join the waiting chorus women in a head-spinning mixture of dances full of stomp, step, and sizzle.
There are also many moments of total hilarity, all directed so by Matthew McCoy. After the real Zangler (Tony Michaels) pointlessly pursues to Deadrock the leader of his Follies Girls who has no love interest in him, Tess (the fiery, strong-voiced Danielle Cheiken), he and Bobby (still dressed as Zangler) commiserate in a drunken state about their love’s woes. As they drink and sing “What Causes That?,” neither understands that the duplicate image he is mirroring is in fact neither a dream nor a mirror. The result for us is one of the funniest among many funny moments of the evening; and the two actors are masterful in their split-second mimicking of each other’s drunken states.
Into this now-crowded town also comes Bobby’s long-time fiancé, who somehow suddenly falls for the town’s saloon owner, Hawkins. Always dressed in New York evening wear – no matter the time or place — Irene (Morgan Peters) gives us another rib-tickler as she in slinky, erotic style pursues all up and down and around his melting, aroused body a surprised but increasingly pleased Hawkins in a joint crowd-pleasing number, “Naughty Baby.”
Another star of the show is the set design of Kuo-Hao Lo, which itself literally dances in twirling action as three separate turntables transform a New York back stage to a desert town’s main street and then into the inside of the town’s hotel/saloon … and all back again several times. Brooke Jennings does her usual magic in creating a vast array of costumes that range from evening gowns and minks to dusty cowboy garb to dance-line spangles and sparkles. The lighting of Eric Johnson superbly isolates the solo dance moves of Mr. DeVoe’s Bobby, paints shadow sculpted canvases for Ms. Altizio’s sung solos, and creates Broadway in Deadrock with glow and glisten. Jon Gallo directs the well-balanced orchestra of seven that do more than fair justice to the famous music of George G.
Even though not every song is sung to its full potential, Bay Area Musical’s Crazy for You is an evening guaranteed to wow and woo even the most skeptical of audience member. This is a smile-producer, especially given the fun every member of this cast of twenty is clearly having and given the dancing talent they bring to literally shake the rafters with their stepping and tapping. Who could not be just a little and probably a lot crazy for Crazy for You?
Rating: 4 E
Crazy for You continues through December 16, 2018 in production by Bay Area Musicals at the Alcazar Theatre at 650 Geary Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.bamsf.orgfor performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m.
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