BWW Review: CRAZY FOR YOU at Theatre In The Park
"Crazy For You," now playing at the Theatre In The Park in Shawnee Mission Park, is the theatrical equivalent of the "Little Engine That Could." It represents the fifth generation of musical shows based on George and Ira Gershwin's 1930 "Girl Crazy" score. Even though the original version kicked off the careers of Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers, none of these shows remotely resembles any of its siblings.
This 1992 iteration of the Gershwin score with a new book by Ken Ludwig won the Tony award for Best Musical that year, but (at the risk of aggravating fans of the competing shows) it was a really weak year for musicals. "Crazy For You" is the worst kind of show business cliché.
"Girl Crazy" debuted right after the 1929 stock market crash. Playwright Ludwig in the 1992 version has planted his dramatic flag in the depression era. Bobby Child, the leading man, is a show biz obsessed junior member of a New York banking family. He is sent out to foreclose the mortgage on a theater property in a dying mining town in the middle of the Nevada desert. Polly, attractive daughter to the Gaiety Theater owner and postmistress, becomes the instant object of his affection. As in the 1943 third iteration of "Girl Crazy" with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, Bobby is inspired to "put on a show" and solve all their problems. There is the inevitable personality mix-up and romantic resolution (Think "Holiday Inn or White Christmas) and the triple dancing finale and curtain call.
To be fair, this twenty-two piece TTIP orchestra and almost thirty-member cast perform excellent covers of the Gershwin vocals and do a credible job with the big tap dance numbers. Many of the numbers do make you want to get up and tap dance. This is discouraged by the muffling effect on taps by the grass amphitheater in front of the stage. One barefoot couple on a blanket in front of us kind of horizontal foot danced their way through most of the show.
The standout performer is the Polly Baker character played by the impressive Cara Hampton. She sings, she dances, she picks up her cues, and she is believable in the role. Her partner in crime is the credible Rob Reeder as Bobby Child with good vocals and better than pretty decent dancing. The ensemble sounds great and creates some awesome production numbers.
So why does this Gershwin score refuse to die? The answer lies in the tunes that became standards for almost a century after they were first rendered. They include "Shall We Dance," "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "Naughty Baby," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and that everlasting ear worm of a tune "I Got Rhythm." These and other songs cause the audience to skip away humming after the curtain for better or for worse.
The plot to this extendEd Stroll down memory lane attempts to profit from all that went before, but unfortunately falls short in my opinion. The show runs just short of 2 ¾ hours including intermission. Part of this can be plopped at the door of Director Kevin Brogan and the way he chooses to realize his vision of what a 1930 musical show should look like.
"Crazy For You" is designed with multiple, massive two sided set pieces set on wagons. They each stand a legitimate two stories tall. The individual sections are all well executed, but together they make scene changes interminable. The show would be much better served and significantly shorter if each of the about twenty scenes were designed and changed in a more minimal way.
Secondary character personality development should have earned more attention. Joke cues should have been jumped on more expeditiously. Extended, but good dance sequences could have been better if they were made a little shorter.
The wonderful wide stage facility was not appropriately masked to assure that entrances and exits were hidden. The funny bit with the clown car in the first act deserved to be better hidden so the audience didn't see the chorus girls exiting from the reverse side of the car. The man in the mirror routine inspired by the Marx Brothers in 1933's "Duck Soup" bit goes on too, too long.
My main difficulty with this show lies with the award winning book by Ken Ludwig. The script seems hackneyed with lots of Abbot and Costello/vaudeville dialog references. It can be almost like watching "Airplane." ("Surely you jest... Don't call me Shirley.") All this can work with super sharp actors who can project the little nuances, but is difficult to pull off in a 4000 blanket grass amphitheater.
Audiences do, however, love this music performed well and this production delivers on that level. "Crazy For You" runs through June 24. Tickets are available at the box office, online at https://www.theatreinthepark.org/.
Photos courtesy of TTIP and Bob Compton Photography