Thinking about going to New York, seeing the holiday sights, catching a Broadway play and coming home broke? Here’s a better idea. Have dinner up in Shirlington and catch “Crazy For You” at Signature. This is hands down as good as anything you’ll find in or out of state right now.
The secret is in the ingredients. Playwrighting all star Ken Ludwig turned his book writing skills to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, two bedrocks of the jazz era American musical, and the result was “Crazy For You”, the Tony and Drama Desk Best Musical award winner of 1992, and the Laurence Olivier winner in ‘93.
Loosely built from the 1930’s hit “Girl Crazy”, “Crazy For You” is a hybrid of Golden Age choreography and exuberance, and Ludwig’s seamless, witty handling of gosh-darned optimism. (“The theatre is dying! Let’s put on a play and save it!”) There is a humorous self-awareness about the show that, thanks to razor sharp focus and timing, never dips into overly sentimental territory. Corny on occasion, yes, but this is premium corn.
Directed by Matthew Gardiner, “Crazy For You” has been reconfigured to Signature’s accessible Max stage, and occasionally spills out into the audience. Denis Jones’ kick-your-lights-out choreography, whether performed by the Zangler Follies or tapped solo by our intrepid hero, is a major piece of the ‘wow’ factor.
Danny Gardner delights as Bobby Child, scion of a prominent N.Y. banking family. What’s money when you can dance? All he wants to do is tap dance in Bela Zangler’s Follies revues. His indominable Mother (the be-furred and imperious Sherri Edelen) will fix that. She sends him to Deadrock, Nevada to close on a moribund little theatre – and remove him from the ambitious clutches of his fiancée, Irene Roth (Natascia Diaz).
Deadrock is dying right along with the theatre where Polly Baker’s (Ashley Spencer) mother once performed – as we are frequently reminded by her charmingly distracted father, Everett (Harry Winter). In fact, Polly is the only woman left in town, so of course Bobby will fall in love with her at first sight, she will discover that he’s there to close the theatre, and so ban him from her sight forever. Being desperate and clever, he will reinvent himself as Bela Zangler, someone whom Polly CAN fall in love with. Laughs, the usual mix-ups, and lots of song and dancing ensue.
“Crazy For You” borrowed and re-invented from the Gershwin canon, notably such stand-outs as “Things Are Looking Up”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, and “They Can’t Take That From Me”; the voices are one and all equal to these classics. When the miners bang out “I Got Rhythm” on pots, tin cans, and old bath tubs, it’s all we can do not to stomp along.
My special favorites were “Slap That Bass” with the Nevada Miners; “What Causes That”, a diamond-sharp twin routine with Bobby as Zangler and the “real” Zangler; and hot tamale, Irene Roth, seducing Lank Hawkins (Cole Burden) in “Naughty Baby.”
Perennial favorite Thomas Simpson and Sherri Edelen appear as the Fodors, lost British tourists trying to map out the American west for travelers, who stay to encourage the ensemble in “Stiff Upper Lip.” All are performed to Jon Kalbfleisch’s live, hidden orchestra.
In spite of the precise alignment of look and movement, a few individual personalities emerged from the spangly line-up of Follies. Tess, for instance, (Mario Rizzo) whips everyone including the miners into disciplined formations, and Patsy (Colleen Hayes) returns from a dreamy world of her own to join the proceedings as needed. Kudos to costumer Tristan Raines for the dazzling feathers and sequins as well as the rest of the point-perfectly attired ensemble.
Paul Tate Depoo’s scene design, complemented by Jason Lyons’ lights, whisks us from the heart of glittering Broadway to the remote desert outposts of Nevada in the blink of a scene change and back again. Of course we find ourselves inside the old Deadrock hotel and theatre where sepia posters of long forgotten performances and delicate stained glass borders magically evoke an age when even vaudeville came to the desert.
Not all classics need, or are even improved by revisiting. The show lighting up Signature’s Max isn’t even “Girl Crazy”, but a sharper incarnation of the Gershwins’ music set to themes that refuse to give in to despair at the height of the Depression. It’s gorgeous, it’s uplifting, and it’s just plain fun. “Who could ask for anything more?”
Maggie Lawrence is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She is a retired English and drama teacher.
WANT TO GO?
What: “Crazy For You”
Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.
Call: (703) 820-9771 or visit www.SigTheatre.org
Playing through Jan. 14