This was the first time I had seen this show. It seems as though it has been around forever, with the songs familiar by a process of popular osmosis. Yet upon conducting some dutiful pre-review research, I was surprised to discover that I was mistaken. It was written as recently as 1992. Ken Ludwig rewrote the book of a 1930 Gershwin musical, “Girl Crazy”, but retained only five of the original 19 numbers. The balance amounts to George and Ira Gershwin’s greatest hits. Thus, in some respects, “Crazy for You” can lay claim to be the first modern Jukebox musical.
Billed as a romantic comedy, we follow the fortunes of Bobby and Polly. Bobby Child is sent to close a failing theatre in 1930’s Deadrock, Nevada. He falls for Polly Baker and, assuming the persona of an Hungarian impresario, Zangler, decides to save the theatre by putting on a show. Mistaken identity, love heartbreak and joy await. The plot utilises a theatrical favourite, the show within a show, but the cast breathe life into the device. Tom Chambers, as Bobby, and Claire Sweeney as Irene, offer the star billing, but it is Charlotte Wakefield’s Polly who dominates the proceedings with a wonderful virtuoso performance.
The show is vibrant, packed with great songs and awash with a feel-good mood, courtesy of Paul Hart’s direction and Nathan Wright’s choreography. The best known song is,“ I Got Rhythm” , a wonderful set piece of movement and colour. A battery of percussion provides a visceral, as well as a cerebral highlight, enhanced by the onstage musicians, framed by impressive sets designed by Diego Pitarch . Obviously, much work was required to convert the well- appointed, sumptuous Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, into a ramshackle dive in Nevada!
Having musician as actors on stage is a shrewd move. It reduces the headcount for the tour, but brings an immediacy and zest to the music, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ and ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’ come alive spectacularly.
Tom Chambers clearly loves his role, preening and prancing, and showing himself to be an accomplished comic actor too, particularly in a mirror routine with the real Zangler, early in the second half, when Child and Zangler are together, dressed identically, each playing their role to great humorous effect, “I am beside myself”. Chambers can dance too. What he lacks in vocal prowess he compensates for with energy, charm and brio.
The female chorus line is a joy, boasting gorgeous costumes, sharp dance steps, and musical instrument playing prowess. The big dance numbers are also sumptuously lit by Howard Hudson. Director Paul Hart, musical arranger Catherine Jayes, and musical director Benjamin Holder have produced a magical alchemy in which all the parts of musical theatre come together in a joyful celebration of the genre.
The first half of the show belongs to the star turns as individuals, the second half belongs to the company. Sweeney is a hugely accomplished actress, her role here slightly underwritten, but being the professional she is, she demonstrates a determination to eke the maximum out of every opportunity she is given to shine.
The audience comes to see Tom Chambers dance, and hear the big Gershwin numbers. Director Hart delivers what is required. Narratively the end of the second act is a bit of a mess, compensated for by a big production finish. A very satisfying night which was enthusiastically received by a well- attended opening night house. Last but not least, do buy the large format programme, it is the best I have ever seen for a touring production.
“Crazy For You” UK Tour is running until 9th June 2018. For more information, venues and tickets see http://www.crazyforyoutour.com/