The Tony-winning Best Musical of 1992 has arrived at Glendale Centre Theatre in an in-the-round production so all-a-round terrific, you’d have to be crazy not to be crazy about Crazy For You. With its ever so talented pair of triple-threat leads, splendid supporting performances, a fabulous song-and-dance ensemble executing some of the most inventive choreography around, and costumes you’d expect to see on a Broadway stage, Crazy For You is is one of GCT’s best.
Taking as its inspiration 1930’s Girl Crazy, Crazy For You retains that show’s Out West setting and Broadway Showgirl chorus line along with the best known of its George and Ira Gershwin songs, including “Bidin’ My Time,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “But Not For Me,” adding to them “Someone To Watch Over Me” (from Oh, Kay!), “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (from Shall We Dance), and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (from Damsel In Distress). With its “Best Of George And Ira” score and Ken (Lend Me A Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, Leading Ladies) Ludwig’s puntastic book, one which pays tribute to (and pokes affectionate fun at) the plot-thin pre-Oklahoma! storylines of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, Crazy For You more than lives up to its Broadway billing as “The New Gershwin Musical Comedy.” Add to that some of the most thrilling tap numbers since 42nd Street, originally choreographed by Susan Stroman, and you’ve got a musical treat for young and old alike.
Ludwig’s book introduces us to banking heir Bobby Child (Jason W. Webb), a dashing young man who wants nothing more than to escape the clutches of his imperious mother Lottie (Dynell Leigh) and longtime fiancée Irene (Lindsay Kristine Anderson) the better to star in a Broadway Show, particularly one produced by impresario Bela Zangler (Danny Michaels) of Zangler Follies fame. Unfortunately, the Florenz Ziegfeld stand-in is too preoccupied with business to pay even the slightest attention to Bobby’s enthusiastic audition, leaving our hero no choice but to accede to his mother’s latest demand, that he head Out West to Deadrock, Nevada and foreclose on the ghost town’s once flourishing Gaiety Theater.
Arriving plumb tuckered out in Deadrock, Bobby is greeted by the town’s dozen remaining cowpokes, who have nothing better to do than bide their time singing “Bidin’ My Time.” Deadrock’s population of eight is completed by Gaiety owner Everett Baker (Nick Menecola) and his feisty daughter Polly (Lyndie Renee), the only woman left in this nearly abandoned coal-mining town.
Though it’s love at first sight for Bobby, the peppy redhead takes an instant dislike to the handsome New Yorker, whom she has vowed to get even with for coming to repossess her pop’s prize possession, the theater where his beloved wife (and Polly’s late mother) once ruled the stage. In fact, Polly finds the sight of Bobby Child so disagreeable that she refuses to even consider his master plan—to put on a show which will net enough cash to save the Gaiety from foreclosure.
Torn between his mother’s orders to foreclose and his desire to win Polly’s heart by hook or by crook, Bobby comes up with the perfect solution—to don fake goatee and impersonate Zangler, figuring quite rightly that Polly will be more than willing to have the Broadway big-shot produce and direct the show—that is if the town’s cowboys can learn to tap as show-stoppingly as the chorus girls Bobby has already brought to Deadrock to assist him in his plan.
Fortunately for Bobby, Polly falls head over heels for him in Zangler garb. Unfortunately for Bobby, she still can’t stand the sight of Bobby as himself.
While Ludwig’s Tony-nominated book isn’t quite as inspired as the 42nd Street-spoofing one George Haimsohn and Robin Miller wrote for Dames At Sea, it does score considerable points for its pun-heavy humor (“You’re next to an idiot!”) and the way it manages in classic jukebox musical fashion to find ways to integrate a dozen and a half Gershwin tunes into its wisp of a plot.
Glendale Centre Theatre audiences know they’re in for something special from the get-go, as director/choreographer Orlando Alexander, not content to let his audience sit back and listen to the show’s prerecorded overture of Gershwin hits, stages a Zangler Follies production number smack dab in its mid-section, spangled showgirls, feathered headdresses, chorus line kicks, and all. This is but a preview, however, of the production number that accompanies Webb’s zingy rendition of “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” GCT’s in-the-round configuration and steeply raked seating allowing the kind of dazzlingly kaleidoscopic moves made famous by Busby Berkeley in his 1930s movie musical classics. (More about Alexander’s choreography later.)
Bobby is played by StageSceneLA favorite Webb, a Scenie-winning Outstanding Lead Actor for She Loves Me, whose stellar performances in 1776, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and Sweeney Todd have revealed a leading man’s charm and vocal gifts but did not prepare this reviewer for his deft Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly dance moves in Crazy For You. Add to this his hilarious impersonation of Bela Zangler and you’ve got Webb’s very best work to date—and that’s saying something.
Webb’s partner Renee not only gives Polly the requisite grit and gumption, but proves an excellent dance (and romantic) partner to Webb and sings Berlin ballads with more than a touch of Dolly Parton, the first time I’ve heard Polly sung country, and gorgeously so.
In supporting roles, Michaels milks every comic moment from Bela Zanglar, his mirror-image scene with Webb’s “Bela” (inspired by Harpo Marx opposite Groucho in Duck Soup and Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy) a masterpiece of precisely-timed physical comedy. Anderson is glamour personified as Bobby’s snooty fiancée Irene, her lush soprano featured in a sexy “Naughty Baby” opposite Edward Chamberlain’s rip-roaring (and very funny) Lank. Leigh is a hoot as Bobby’s snobbish mother Lottie, Menecola a warm and folksy Everett (Polly’s dad), and Kate Landro and Todd Andrew Ball a delightfully stiff-upper-lip English Eugene and Patricia Fodor. Among the Zangler girls, a terrific Claudia Dolph makes for a sassy Tess, while the fabulous Christa Hamilton has her dumb blonde act down pat(sy) as Patsy.
Bernadette Bentley (Betsy) Laurie Fedor (Mitzi), Anna Lamonica (Susie), Daron O’Donnell (Elaine), Anne Schroeder (Louise), and Libby Snyder (Margie) complete the glamorous Zangler Gilds, while Raymond Barcelo (Moose), Greg Hardash (Sam), Kevin Holmquist (Harry/Jimmy), Espiridion Magana (Mingo), T.J. McNeil (Wyatt), Travis Morse (Junior), Justin Radford (Billy/Pete), and Paul Reid (Custus) are the time-bidin’ denizens of Deadrock, all of whom get top marks for staying in character regardless of the size of their roles and even more so, for their flawless execution of some of the best (and most ingenious) choreography you’re likely to see in an L.A. musical.
In addition for the 1930s homework that’s gone into Alexander’s spot-on direction, his choreography proves a winner again and again. In addition to the abovementioned “Overture” and “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” Alexander takes Broadway superstar Stroman’s Tony-winning choreography as a starting-off point and makes “Slap That Bass” and “I Got Rhythm” two of the show-stoppingest showstoppers you’ll see any time soon. “I Got Rhythm” in particular is a standout, with the most inspired use of noise-making dance props since Matthew Bourne’s breathtaking staging of “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” in the National Tour of My Fair Lady.
Steven Applegate scores his usual high marks for musical directing the cast, while costume designer Angela Woods of Glendale Costumes outdoes herself in colorful, color-coordinated 1930s period wear, both glitzy and rustic. The production’s unbilled sets wisely leave the stage area open for dance sequences, with wall paintings and designs above and around entrance and exit tunnels providing just enough scene-setting for an in-the-round production. (Substituting a phone booth for the usual automobile in “I Can’t Be Bothered Now” is a particularly clever touch.) The show’s unbilled lighting design is striking and effective as well. Sharing program credit are production consultant Michaels, stage manager Caitlin Barbieri, and sound technician Nathan J. Milisavljevich. (Amped vocals and prerecorded instrumental tracks are adeptly mixed.)
It’s been quite a year for musicals at Glendale Centre Theatre—Fiddler On The Roof, Annie, Little Shop Of Horrors, and now Crazy For You, each and every one of them an absolute gem, made even more cheer-worthy by the GCT creative team’s expertise at transferring great big Broadway shows from proscenium to arena stage. Of the three excellent Crazy For Yous I’ve seen in the past eight months, Glendale Centre Theatre’s is the all-a-round best.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
March 7, 2013