BWW Review: CRAZY FOR YOU, Theatre Royal Brighton
George and Ira Gershwin have written some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century. Crazy for You contains some of their most beloved hits: "I Got Rhythm", "Embraceable You", "Someone to Watch Over Me", and more.
The show began life as Girl Crazy, which opened on Broadway in 1930. Sixty years later, Ken Ludwig and Mick Ockrent revived the show with a new plot, extra Gershwin numbers and a new name, Crazy for You.
It won three Tony Awards in 1992 and two Olivier awards for the 1993 West End transfer. This most recent revival premiered at Newbury's Watermill Theatre in July 2016 and is coming towards the end of a 2017/2018 UK tour.
Tom Chambers stars as Bobby Child, a hapless banker living in New York who dreams of dancing on stage. He is sent to Deadrock, Nevada, on business to take possession of its rundown theatre.
During his time in the small town, he falls for its only female resident, Polly Baker (Charlotte Wakefield). In an attempt to woo her and save the theatre, he enlists some of his New Yorker friends to help put on a show starring the local residents to help pay off the venue's mortgage.
Chambers shows off his dancing prowess as Bobby, flying around the stage - be it ballroom or tap dancing. He plays Bobby with gormless gaiety, but his character's persistent pursuit of Polly becomes a little irritating.
Wakefield portrays Polly with gutsy confidence. She sings and dances with joyous energy. Her emotive performance of "But Not For Me" is a show-stopping highlight. However, her character's indecision over which man she loves grows tiresome over the course of the piece.
Bobby's fiancée, Irene, who he seems to forget about while out of town, is played by Claire Sweeney. She oozes allure and glamour on stage during her - surprisingly few - performance numbers.
The inclusion of actor-musicians in this piece allows the lush Gershwin score to be heard as it should be: performed by a large ensemble live on stage, ably led by Jerome van den Berghe. The cast dazzle as they execute Nathan M Wright's thrilling choreography while holding flutes, trombones and violins, among other instruments.
The pre-show announcement reassuring attendees that the actor-musicians are playing live feels slightly patronising and unnecessary. Do audiences really need to be told the 16-strong ensemble aren't miming?
Howard Hudson's lighting design highlights both protagonists and musicians in their shining moments. The single spotlight on a clarinettist playing the infamous solo glissando into Rhapsody in Blue at the top of the show is an inspired choice for the opening.
The set (designed by Diego Pitarch) is a playground of spiral staircases and platforms framed by the neglected proscenium arch of the Deadrock theatre. It allows ample floor space for the dance breaks, while also having plenty of nooks to hide musical instruments in and levels for actors to maximise the slapstick aspects of the show.
Pitarch's costumes clearly differentiate the small-town folk and New Yorkers. Chalmers and Ditt are in sharp pinstripe suits representative of big city life, while the Deadrock locals are more casual in their Western attire.
Disappointingly, the plot is very poor, only occasionally attempting to link the trivial story to the (perhaps too many) musical numbers. The audience don't seem to mind though as they are treated to back-to-back Gershwin hits.
It is a shame that the narrative does not live up to the wonderful score, but when speech turns into song in this piece, the cast certainly entertain.
Photo credit: Theatre Royal Brighton