Last Updated on 7th July 2023
Tim Hochstrasser reviews the West End transfer of Crazy For You now playing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.
Crazy for You
Gillian Lynne Theatre
Anyone wanting to discover the formula for a successful musical could do a lot worse than studying all the creative elements that have gone into Crazy for You, which has just returned to the Gillian Lynne Theatre. A great success back in the 1990s, this show still fizzes and sparkles with as much sheer power and glitzy finesse as ever it did; and given the dire state of the world around us, its ability to dispel gloom and substitute uninhibited joy is perhaps even more important and necessary.
This musical is a confection or ‘pasticcio’ in the best sense of the term. Recognising that all the Gershwin shows from the 20s and 30s are individually dated or problematic, the original producers took the basic plot and some of the numbers from ‘Girl Crazy’ of 1930 and then added in a selection of George and Ira’s greatest hits, twenty in all, to create a showcase for their art.
But there is more to it than that. For the show to have an independent life of its own it needed fresh creative inspiration, provided by Ken Ludwig for the book and Susan Stroman for the choreography. Each of these aspects shimmer into shape splendidly in this revival – while the plot is absurd to a degree (but no more so than many Baroque operas) the dialogue is sassy, at points risqué, and always credible and in service to the action. And Stroman’s awe-inspiring routines unfurl themselves as seamlessly as ever, building layer upon layer of remarkable athleticism, and yet always keeping something surprising in reserve for the final flourish. There is so much to look at and take in you immediately feel at the end of each act that you want – indeed need – to see it again.
A key element in the success here is the care taken over the orchestral arrangements where three contributors are credited together with musical director Alan Williams. The long melodies and subtle harmonic shifts in the Gershwin originals lend these numbers to improvisation and variation as jazz musicians have long recognised. Stroman (also directing in this revival) and her arrangers exploit this power to the full to create long dance sequences of great cumulative power, perhaps most notably in ‘Slap that Bass’ and the showpiece presentation of ‘I Got Rhythm’ just before the interval. The mood shifts and complexity of the orchestral lines are precisely mirrored in the dancing with crack technical skills on show from both dancers and players.
The plot, such as it is, takes us from the Follies world of New York City through to a deadbeat mining town in Nevada. Bobby Child has the task of putting on a successful show in the desert with the aid of the townsfolk if he is to save the theatre from mortgage foreclosure and win over Polly, daughter of the theatre owner. Needless to say, Bobby can somehow recruit the help of a holidaying troupe of Follies girls by pretending to be their Hungarian impresario, Bela Zangler, until the actual Zangler turns up. Complications of every kind pile up for Bobby, including a machinating saloon bar owner, a stubborn former girlfriend, the writers of a travel guide, and finally his mother, before a blissful resolution.
All of this is accomplished with relatively simple sets that slide on and off, but the most lavish of lighting and costume designs, with as precise an attention to Art Deco period detail as you could desire. The stage of the Gillian Lynne offers an ample apron and plenty of depth for the large-scale numbers and the company offer superb singing and dancing excellence across the board. It was a nice touch at the very end to give the swings and understudies a bow of their own, indicative of the great collective camaraderie in a show where there are thirty or so performing roles.
A lot rests on the leads in this show – Bobby and Polly are hardly off for long, and quite apart from the concerted numbers there are solo songs and dance items and elaborate vocal and choreographed duets. Both Charlie Stemp and Carly Anderson rose to these multiple challenges with peerless success and elegant grace. If I had to single out one moment it would be their version of ‘Embraceable You’ where they must shift the mood and really convince the audience of truth of their relationship. This had emotional heft as well as great technical bravura.
In the supporting roles, Tom Edden did a great job in the somewhat unrewarding role of Bela Zangler – his mirror number with Stemp provided some of the best visual gags of the evening. And Natalie Kassanga smouldered and provoked with the best in her version of ‘Naughty Baby.’ Mathew Craig made a lot of the role of the resentful saloon bar owner, and Sam Harrison and Rina Fatania, as the Fodors, gave more than a nod to P.G.Wodehouse. You get the sense all round of a happy and smooth-running production.
So this is a show you can safely recommend to anyone who loves musical theatre – to the novice it will offer undifferentiated delight and to the aficionado it will be a reminder of the timeless joys of the genre when all the moving parts come together in perfect synergy.