What’s the recipe for a great musical? A superb songbook is essential, and so is a first-rate cast, but the most important element is the most elusive: to become a surefire hit, a musical must make you feel glad to be alive.
Crazy For You has that ineffable joie de vivre which it shares with all the best stage shows. It leaves you feeling warm and giddy, like a stiff drink before dinner or a kiss on a first date.
What makes it so intoxicating? Partly the timeless, glorious songs of George and Ira Gershwin, but mainly because every performer on this stage is clearly having such a splendid time.
This exuberant production opened at Chichester Festival last summer and is now making its West End debut, but its pedigree dates back to its US premiere in 1992. The choreographer of that sell-out show (which won three Tony awards on Broadway, and three Olivier awards in the West End) was Susan Stroman, who directs and choreographs this revival.
How fitting to see it in this theatre, dedicated to the late great director and choreographer Gillian Lynne (1926- 2018).
Stroman’s choreography is athletic and sensual, and these actors rise to her exacting challenge. Her ensemble numbers are full of tricks and stunts, but she’s never showy for the sake of it.
Stroman knows how to razzle-dazzle, but she also knows when to step aside and simply let the music breathe.
Crazy For You doesn’t suffer from that awkward problem which afflicts so many musicals, where the playing style shifts uncomfortably between spoken word and song. Not many people can wear both hats, but Stroman combines the roles of director and choreographer perfectly. In her care, dance and dialogue form one seamless, uninterrupted flow.
The show started life in 1930 as a Broadway musical called Girl Crazy. In 1943, it spawned an enjoyable but forgettable movie starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
The original plot was unremarkable: New York socialite Bobby Child is sent out to Nevada by his wealthy, puritanical family, where he falls for a singing dancing cowgirl called Polly Baker. It was an efficient vehicle for some enchanting GARY SMITH Gershwin songs, but that was it. Half a century later, playwright Ken
Crazy for him: Charlie Stemp as Bobby Child
Ludwig rewrote this routine story, turning it into a brand-new musical full of comic twists and turns. Bobby becomes a stagestruck wannabe, sent to Nevada to take possession of an old theatre, and Polly becomes the daughter of the theatre’s owner.
When Polly turns him down, Bobby disguises himself as famous impresario Bela Zangler. His deceit works a treat, until the real Zangler comes to town...
Carly Anderson is an alluring Polly, alternating between tough and tender. Her powerful singing voice is full of passion. She holds the entire auditorium in her potent, penetrating gaze.
Charlie Stemp is a charming, boyish Bobby. His dancing is electric, and his impish personality lights up the stage. Tom Edden is a manic, hyperactive Zangler, finding laughs in every line. Beowulf Boritt’s art-deco set pays homage to Busby Berkeley movies. The show lasts two and half hours (plus interval), but it never drags.
Crazy For You retained the best Gershwin songs from Girl Crazy (including I Got Rhythm, But Not For Me and Embraceable You), supplemented by other Gershwin numbers gleaned from other shows.
This medley of their greatest hits revived interest in that classic partnership, at a time when Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals reigned supreme, on both sides of the pond.
‘When future historians try to find the exact moment at which Broadway finally rose up to grab the musical back from the British, they just may conclude that the revolution began last night,’ wrote renowned theatre critic Frank Rich in the
New York Times, reviewing the show’s Broadway opening in 1992.
Rich was right. Thanks to Crazy For You, the Gershwin brothers are back where they belong, in the pantheon of America’s finest songwriting duos. This effervescent show features just a small fraction of their life-affirming oeuvre. Ira, who wrote the lyrics, lived to the grand old age of 86, but George, who wrote the melodies, died of a brain tumour when he was only 38.
If he’d lived as long as Ira, who knows what else he might have achieved?