by Beki Pineda
CRAZY FOR YOU – Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin; Book by Ken Ludwig; Directed by Michael Lasris. Co-produced by Lakewood Cultural Center and Performance Now Theatre Company (Presented at Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, Lakewood) through April 7. Tickets available at 303-987-7845 or Lakewood.org/tickets.
How is it that audiences now can tap their toes to a musical created in 1992 with music and lyrics composed 80 years before? Because Ken Ludwig, noted playwright, on the heels of his first wildly successful play – LEND ME A TENOR – thought to himself, “What can I do next?” His answer was to return to the Gershwin catalog of songs to create a loose plot around some of the best tunes from their early musicals, such as GIRL CRAZY, TREASURE GIRL, A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS, and others to create a whole new and delightful musical called CRAZY FOR YOU. It had been attempted once before with mixed results for the Tommy Tune-led musical MY ONE AND ONLY which pulled from a different set of Gershwin musicals. The catalog George and Ira Gershwin left behind is enormous with 16 Broadway musicals and seven movie scores, not even mentioning the stand alone songs which poured from their collective genius.
And now this musical pastiche has found its way to Denver with a sterling production by Performance Now. From the moment the old-fashioned overture begins featuring a collage of the musical numbers that adorn the show, your toes are tapping and you rejoice at hearing these beautiful familiar melodies. Those Gershwin boys really knew how to put a song together. We are treated throughout the evening to “Biding My Time,” “Embraceable You,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” ‘But Not For Me,” and an absolutely show-stopping version of “I Got Rhythm.” In between these familiar songs are sprinkled other shining examples of the Gershwin charm with comedy songs and ballads.
The plot is a bit of a stretch of the imagination that takes our hero Bobby Childs, the son of a successful banking family who only wants to dance, from the backstage of a Broadway theatre where he tries unsuccessfully to impress producer Bella Zangler with his talent to the Wild West of Nevada where he has been sent by his mother to foreclose on a failing family theatre. His plan to get the dirty deed done quick and get back to New York gets sidetracked when he meets Polly, the lovely daughter of the owner of the theatre, and decides maybe he’d like to hang around a little and help save the theatre. To do so, he has to impersonate Zangler, his New York nemesis. There are Broadway babes coming to the rescue to teach the Deadrock cowboys how to dance (it’s amazing how quickly they pick it up!), sets to be built, and an audience to be found. A semi-villain, Lank Hawkins owns the restaurant/hotel next door and doesn’t want the theatre to re-open because he wants to buy it to expand his hotel. Other complications to the course of true love are Bobby’s so-called fiancé, Irene Roth; his determined mother Lottie; and Bella himself who finally shows up in Deadrock in pursuit of his chorine sweetie Tess. In one of the funniest vaudevillian scenes in the whole play, Bobby disguised as Bella and Bella himself drunkenly confront each other across a table and perform the old simultaneous movement routine beautifully in sync. Bella in confusion moans, “I’m beside myself.”
This is, after all, a Broadway Musical Comedy (in all caps) in every sense of the word. So the dancing sparkles, the gags are outrageous, the costumes are adorable, and the right guy gets the right girl in the end. Even better, all the guys get all the right girls in the end – even Polly’s father. But before all that happens we are treated to a delightful evening of dance. Choreographer Lasris created a tight tap dancing ensemble that obviously enjoyed themselves in every number. Visual treats abounded – like the number “Slap That Bass” which turns chorus girls into bass fiddles and the before mentioned Act One closer “I Got Rhythm” which utilized strips of corrugated metal for the cowboy’s dance number. Anna Hartcastle brought delight to the role of Polly with her confusion over falling in love with Bobby while he was disguised as Bella. Her ballads – “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not For Me” – demonstrate her beautiful singing voice. As her female companions in this romp, Jenny Mather was a sassy Tess keeping Bella at arm’s length; Brekken Baker was a haughty and sophisticated Irene Roth; and Jane Phillips was domineering as Bobby’s mother, Lottie.
The men excelled as well led by Nick Madson as the crazy for dancing Bobby. His smooth and polished performance illustrates his range of experience and years of dancing. He has a sparkle in his eye and grace in every movement that is hard to resist. Dave Gordon brought a comical frustration and only semi-villainous tinge to his turn as Lank Hawkins. As the perfectly matched twin, Andrew Bates was a funny drunk as Bella. Becky and Brian Trampler were a cute pair of travelers as Mr. and Mrs. Fodor creating their first travel guidebook. An outstanding ensemble of talented dancers came together to provide the necessary chorus girls in ridiculous blonde wigs and cowboys in jeans and boots. The huge cast (28) filled the stage and gave this classic Broadway musical the treatment and respect it deserved.
The sets, co-designed by the director and the producer Ken Goodwin, included not only a backstage at a Broadway theatre, but a clown-type limousine which spilled out dozens of dazzling chorines, the Main Street of Deadrock, and the interiors of both Lank’s two-story hotel and the inside of the Deadrock Theatre. The costumes by Ann Piano kept up the Broadway feel with show costumes and period street wear. Kelly Mann made at least ten candlestick phones for one number and provided all the additional props needed for this complicated show. The house band led by Eric Weinstein obviously took great delight in the joyful melodies they got to play and seemed to have a great time doing it. All in all, another technically fine show at LCC.
A WOW factor of 8.75!!