Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Crazy for You," a delightful old-fashioned escapist musical at the Stratford Festival

What does someone do when they are given the opportunity to obtain the rights to 400 George and Ira Gershwin songs?  If you are Roger Horchow, who, at age six, heard George Gershwin play the piano at his house, you hire creative Ken Ludwig, the author of such shows as  “Lend Me A Tenor,” to write a funny story and incorporate into it eighteen songs from nine shows that were produced between 1918 and 1937.

“Crazy for You,” a version of which is being staged at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, is the show that resulted from the Ludwig-Gershwin collaboration.  There are the witty lyrics of Ira Gershwin and the varied musical sounds of George Gershwin, including blues, ragtime, jazz and western, and Ludwig’s outrageous script. 

It is a typical 1930s song and dance show with a slight farcical plot, with no moral or message.  It contains romance, mistaken identity, farcical situations, slapstick, and sexual innuendoes.
If you didn’t know better you’d perceive “the new Gershwin musical” as written in the pre-depression era.  Not, so.  It’s a creation that won the 1992 Tony Award for Best Musical.

The original Broadway production ran for 1,622 performances.  The highlight of the staging was Susan Stroman’s tap-dancing production numbers and director Mike Ockrent’s farcical staging.

The story line concerns Bobby Child, the rich son of a banker, who has a yen to be a musical theatre star.  He wants to appear in the Zangler Follies (think the Ziegfeld Follies), but Bela Zangler won’t give him a break.  Bobbie is sent by his family’s bank to foreclose on a theatre in the old west.  He, of course, falls in love with Polly, the local postmistress, whose mother used to be the star performer at the theatre.  Of course, Polly has song and dance talents.  They decide to put on a show to save the theatre.  (Yes, it’s Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland set in the old west.) 

There has to be a plot twist or two, so Billy’s wealthy fiancée follows him to Deadrock, Nevada. Bobby has the dancers from the follies, who together with a bunch of cowboys, become the theatre’s singing and dancing chorus, Bela finds out and comes to claim his beauties, and . . .. 

More explanation of the plot is possible, but this isn’t a “who done it” with a surprise ending.  We know how the whole thing comes out after the first ten minutes of the play.  Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, another boy gets another girl, the theatre is saved and Bobby and Polly become stars.  Curtain!

Some of the songs that flow from the stage are, “Bidin’ My Time,” ”Shall We Dance?”, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” ”They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”  Highlight production numbers are “I Got Rhythm” and “What Causes That?.”

Creatively directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, “Crazy for You” is a total delight.  She has a nice touch in staging the ridiculous.  A scene of two drunks having a fight in a bar is one of the funniest routines every staged.  The shticks, gimmicks and exaggerations all work.  Ridiculousness runs rampant, to the delight of the audience.

Adorable Natalie Daradich creates a Polly who is emotionally accessible, sings and dances well, and sparkles on stage.  Josh Franklin has matinee idol good looks, a fine singing voice, and a nice touch with comedy.  Tom Rooney is properly ridiculous as Bella Zangler.  The folly girls and the cowboys are well trained in dance and sing with gusto. 

The sets work well, the costumes are era correct and the orchestra is pitch perfect.

Capsule judgement:  “Crazy For You” is a total delight.  Anyone who loves the fun and ridiculousness of an old time musical, complete with a marvelous George and Ira Gershwin score, will have a wonderful time attending this Stratford production.
For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to