Nobody loves a Gershwin tune more than I do. In the parlour game of whittling down my favourite tunes into the eight discs I would take with me should Kirsty Young cast me away onto Radio 4’s fabled desert island, a huge number of the songs that make my all-too-long shortlist have music composed by George with lyrics by “his lovely wife Ira”.
Which is one of the reasons why I ought to adore Crazy For You, which is currently playing in the West End’s Novello Theatre in a transfer from a summer run at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. And by the end of the show, I did wholeheartedly. But it didn’t half make it hard to love.
Ken Ludwig’s book is a mixture of the city-boy-goes-to-the-Wild-West plot of _Girl Crazy_, a Rooney/Garland style “let’s do the show right here”, and a nostalgic remembrance of the Broadway of the 1920s and 30s. For me, though, all these goals never quite gel together, making it hard to buy in to the love story at the heart of the show, as city boy and wannabe dancer Bobby falls for both the Nevada theatre he’s been despatched to foreclose, and the daughter of the theatre’s owner.
Despite some smart and witty one-liners, the script takes an age to build up momentum, even when interspersed with trademark high-octane dance numbers featuring lines of tap dancing chorus girls. Part of my antipathy for the book, I suspect, is compounded by this production’s stolid direction – nowhere more visible than the tortuous opening scenes set backstage at Broadway’s Zangler theatre. With the “stage” being played completely upstage, the cast with their backs to us – a technique Ludwig also uses (to far gather effect) in Lend Me a Tenor – the genuine audience feels alienated from the outset, and it takes a while to get fully engaged with the onstage antics.
And that’s a shame, because the dance numbers are so warm and inviting. Sean Palmer is endearing as the romantic lead of Bobby Child, and his chemistry with Clare Foster’s Polly is palpable, especially in their wonderful ballet sequence to Shall We Dance?. And the comedic highlight of the night, as a drunken Bobby, dressed as theatre impresario Bela Zangler, echoes and duets with an equally blotto Zangler (David Burt) is the definite highlight of the evening.
Indeed, once the scene-setting of Act I has been completed (which it doesn’t fully until the interval curtain, after a splendid group number of I Got Rhythm) the whole production shifts up several notches. If the first act zipped along with the exuberance of the second, it would be a five-star review in my book.
Nobody loves a Gershwin tune more than I do. In the parlour game of wh…