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
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
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
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 &
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