Image © Richard Davenport
CRAZY FOR YOU
Opera House, Manchester
Until Saturday 2nd December, 2017
Take a glance at the Crazy For You production poster and it evokes a smooth, classy, top hat and tails style affair that one might typically associate with the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, yet although there are elements of that within the show, what ultimately unfolds is a much more bawdy and riotous affair, principally set in the former gold-mining haven of Deadrock, Nevada; imagine Ziegfeld Follies meets Annie Get Your Gun if you will.
Winner of the 1992 Tony Award for Best Musical, Crazy For You charts the comedic struggles of Bobby Child, the son of a wealthy banking family who dreams of being a Broadway song and dance man. When his mother sends him to the isolated desert town of Deadrock to foreclose on a rundown theatre, he instantly falls for Polly, the fiesty daughter of the theatre’s proprietor, and under the guise of famed Hungarian impresario Bela Zangler, decides to save the theatre by putting on a show. Cue mistaken identity, gunfire, a frustrated fiancée and general mayhem.
Based around the sublime music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin (and largely inspired by their 1930 musical, Girl Crazy), Ken Ludwig’s whimsical comedy is a clever homage to the classic Hollywood ‘chalk and cheese’ musicals of the 1930s and 40s, filled with warm humour, sharp characters and inventive wordplay, but it struggles with pacing issues – notably in the second act – and features what is surely one of the most abrupt and anticlimactic endings in musical theatre, building up to a lavish grand finale that sadly never arrives.
Typically, actor-musician productions can be rather hit and miss as performers are severely restricted in what they can do, however Paul Hart’s fluid use of onstage actor-musicians breaths new life into a production that would quite possibly fall flat were the orchestra in the pit as normal, though the downside with having actors and musicians sharing the same on-stage microphones is that vocals, dialogue and some pretty technical tap dancing (which simply doesn’t have the same effect without the sharp tap) do often get drowned out by the huge orchestral sound.
Building on his Strictly Come Dancing success, and following on from previous stage productions of Top Hat and White Christmas, Tom Chambers makes short work of some difficult routines and brings a charming, likeable quality to the character of Bobby, though aside from some fun, physical comedy, he does take time to grow into the role and often struggles with the American accent. Bobby’s dialogue contains a sizeable chunk of the show’s comedy and sarcasm, but Chambers’ general delivery feels a little too reserved and needs more energy behind it.
Boasting superb characterisation, an impressive vocal range and a rock solid accent, Charlotte Wakefield is however the real driving force of this production and turns in a truly excellent performance as the sturdy young Polly. Neil Ditt and Ned Rudkins-Stow are standouts in a supporting ensemble that again struggle with American accents.
Hollie Cassar replaces the previously announced Caroline Flack (who has been forced to leave the tour on doctor’s orders) and does good work as Bobby’s fiancée Irene, though given it is such a small role, with very little dialogue or stage time, it seems such a bizarre character to warrant the stunt casting of Flack, or indeed Claire Sweeney, who takes over the role from 16 January 2018.
Despite issues with plot and pacing, Crazy For You is just good old fashioned fun, recalling the charming, optimistic musicals of yesteryear and proving that a traditional, simple staging is often the best way to go.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at the Opera House, Manchester: Saturday 2nd December, 2017
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