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Not so much Crazy For You but the cast impressed



Review: David Munro

BASED on the 1920's Broadway musical - Girl Crazy - Crazy For You was first produced in 1992, in New York, and is memorable as the show that first brought Susan Stroman to prominence, as a choreographer of exceptional merit.

It was her dances, which raised the show from a mediocre semi-revival to a Broadway hit of 1,622 performances.

The plot, concocted by Mike Ockrent and Ken Ludwig, certainly is nothing to write home about - the son of a wealthy banking family, with an itch to appear in show business, is sent to foreclose a property in Nevada.

The property turns out to be a theatre and the daughter of the the owner is a feisty girl postmistress, with whom he falls in love, and in the tradition of the musical, he puts on a show in the theatre and saves it, thereby winning the postmistress' hand in marriage.

Along the way, and during the course of two acts, he and the rest of the cast manage to get through a slew of Gershwin songs, from1918 to 1937, covering the full period of Gershwin's compositional career.

Only five and a half come from the original Girl Crazy, the rest are taken from other show and film scores, including The Real American Folk Song, which is the first known published work by George and Ira.

These are the real justification for the show and Miss Stroman turned it into a Terpsichorean feast, which was re-created a year later in London giving, for perhaps the first time, the West End an idea of the sheer professionalism of a Broadway show, and winning the Olivier Award for best musical to boot - or should it be tap shoe?

With these antecedents and, bearing in mind the financial failure of Contact, Ms Stroman's last offering in London, I wondered why, despite the joy of hearing all those wonderful Gershwin songs, Chris Moreno had decided to revive what is basically an American song and dance show.

The reason must be the music, for what we saw at Wimbledon is a reasonable facsimile of the original show, but sadly lacking its punch and polish.

That is not to say it is a bad show, by any means. It is not. On its own terms of reference, it is merry and bright, well staged and with performers of considerable charm and, as such, is well worth a visit.

But it is also well steeped in the old English tradition that choreography relies on the ballet, rather than the dance, and so instead of the angular and rhythmical steps of the Fosse and, I suppose, now you would say, Stroman School of Musical Theatre you get the tap routine and balletic leaps and turns that exemplified the tradition swept away, one had hoped, by Fosse and shows of that ilk.

It is not fair, therefore, to condemn the performers or their choreographer, David Kort, as they all show talent and do what they have been told to do, extremely well.

The leads, Melanie Stace (Polly) and Darren Bennett (Bobby) make a charming couple and their chemistry is right for the exigencies of the plot.

They both dance and sing with energy, although I felt a slight twinge of disaffection at Miss Stace's unfortunate attempt to emulate Ethel Merman's vocal coup de theatre, in I Got Rhythm.

Darren Bennett also carried off the drunk scene and dance with Mark Wynter (Bela Zangler), the theatrical impresario, well, proving that given the right material and direction, he could be as good a comedian as he is a dancer.

Jenny Cox, as Irene, the scorned fiancée, shone in her solo Naughty Baby, although, again, it was staged more as a 1920s number,rather than a 21st Century one.

Perhaps she was meant to recall Heather Thatcher, the Twenties ingénue who created the number in Gershwin's only British musical, Primrose; if so; she added her own patina to the re-creation very successfully.

As a comedy couple, Sue Hodge and Christopher Beeney, appear to base themselves on Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge, a husband and wife comedy team who dominated English Musical Comedy from the 1920s right up to the Sixties. Nevertheless, once again, they were effective and amusing in what they were called upon to do.

The rest of the cast, who are too numerous to single out individually, danced energetically and, when called upon to do so, played their scenes effortlessly, and added to the enjoyment of the evening.

I think, by now you, will have gathered the gist of my criticism of this show.

It was an ambitious attempt to re-create a show which is steeped in a genre which, as last night proved, is alien to the British performer, unless directed and choreographed by those who created and perpetuate it on the other side of the Atlantic.

The result, for me at least, is that what the director Chris Colby and his choreographer have achieved is a good, well-staged and danced show, which would have been more appropriately entitled Jolly Good For You than Crazy For You.

This is not fair on those who are called upon to try and emulate it without the specialised direction called for, and I have nothing but praise for the cast of this show, who proved that, in the context of the musical, they can put on a show and save the theatre. Which they did very successfully.

It is for their performances and the music, which is brilliantly and pleasurably played, by a good orchestra under Jonathan Gill, that I would urge you to go and see the show, as although as you will have realised, I was not crazy for the concept of reviving this show and of those behind it, I am crazy for you, the cast who gave us all an entertaining evening - even if it was not the one that the original and only begetters of the show intended.

Crazy For You, by Ken Ludwig, as conceived by Mike Ockrent and Ken Ludwig. Inspired by Girl Crazy, by Guy Bolton & John McGowan.
Music, George Gershwin; Lyrics, Ira Gershwin and others.
Director, Chris Colby; Designer, Allan Miller-Bunford; Costume Supervisor, Amy McNamara; Lighting, Graham McClusky; Sound, Thames Audio; Choreographer, David Kort; Musical Director, Jonathan Gill.
CAST: Melanie Stace; Darren Bennett; Mark Wynter; Christopher Beeny; Sue Hodge; Jenny Cox; Audrey Leybourne; Karl Moffat; Matt Zimmerman; Jessie Banks; Marianne Benedict; Alan Burkett; Claire Brazier; Kate Cobb; Carly Hainsby; Kelly Homewood; Charlotte Humphrerys; Peter Jamieson; Howard Jones; Kris Mannel; Michael Morgan; Edwin Ray; Antony Reed; Estelle Williams; Danielle Hoodhouse.
Presented by Chris Moreno. New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Evenings: Mon, March 1 - Sat 6, 2004 @ 7.30pm
Matinees: Thurs & Sat 2.30pm
Box Office 0870 060 1827

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