The songs are all Gershwin, the dancing is virtually non-stop, and the entertainment value is sky-high in the Tony-winning Best Musical of 1992 Crazy For You, which Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre is now reviving to justified audience cheers.
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 this “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, choreographed on Broadway 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 (Chris Duir), a dashing young man-about-town who wants nothing more than to escape the clutches of his imperious mother Lottie (Jenny Moon Shaw) and longtime fiancée Irene (Angela Calderon), the better to star in a Broadway Show, particularly one produced by impresario Bela Zangler (Bryan Overmyer) of Zangler Follies fame.
Unfortunately for Bobby, the Florenz Ziegfeld stand-in is too preoccupied with business to pay even the slightest attention to the would-be hoofer’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 motley band of remaining cowpokes, who have nothing better to do than bide their time singing “Bidin’ My Time.” Deadrock’s population of ten is completed by Gaiety owner Everett Baker (Steven Biggs) and his feisty daughter Polly (Susanna Vaughan), the only woman left in this nearly abandoned coal-mining town.
Though it’s love at first sight for Bobby, the peppy brunette 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 wig and 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 our lovestruck hero 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.
Ultimately, however, Crazy For You is all about the songs, the dances, and the performances, and under Neil Dale’s pitch-perfect direction, inspired by Stroman’s original but with the Scenie-winning director’s own personal touches, this is as all-around splendiferous a revival as I’ve seen at Candlelight, which is high praise indeed.
Duir, a 2010 graduate of Cal State Fullerton’s illustrious musical theater BFA program, does his most sensational work to date as Bobby, acting, singing, and dancing the role to true triple-threat perfection. Not only does Duir sparkle in tap number after tap number, he is as charmingly engaging a Bobby as they come in addition to being a hilarious pseudo-Zangler and possessing terrific tenor pipes to boot.
As Ginger to Duir’s Fred, Vaughan moves up from Candlelight chorus girl to full-fledged leading lady with her spunky romantic-comedy turn as Polly, the rip-roaringest cowgal since Annie got her gun. Add to that some gorgeous vocal chords with which the Azusa Pacific grad belts out the best of the Gershwins and footwork that would do Astaire’s “backwards in high heels” partner proud, and you’ve got a leading lady with a bright future ahead of her.
Supporting Duir and Vaughan are an all-around splendid bunch of featured performers.
Overmyer couldn’t be funnier as Broadway big shot Zangler, and never more so than in an inspired comedic turn opposite Duir’s mirror-image “Bella,” a sequence reminiscent of the time Lucy Ricardo met Harpo Marx on I Love Lucy. Not only that, but Overmyer doubles to terrific comic effect as vistor-from-England Eugene Fodor, researching Deadrock for his soon-to-be popular series of guidebooks.
Shaw’s Lottie and Calderon’s Irene milk every comedic moment as blue-blooded mother and daughter, the latter duetting a hilarious “Naughty Baby” opposite Edward Chamberlain’s cowpoke Lank, so naughty that you almost expect Calderon to pull out a whip. Chamberlain delights equally as Calderon’s partner in naughtiness, reprising the role he played so entertainingly last year at Glendale Centre Theatre.
Biggs is a silver-foxy charmer as Everett Baker, while the delightful duo of Overmyer and Shaw (the latter doubling with verve as Patricia Fodor) poke affectionate fun at as the dressed-for-a-safari Fodors, leading the ensemble in the appropriately named “Stiff Upper Lip.”
Dannielle Green (Tess) and Anne Schroeder (Patsy) make for a glamorous, leggy pair of Follies Girls alongside the equally stunning Rachel Burkert, Sharon Jewell, Catie Marron, and Libby Snyder. Keenon Hooks (Mingo), David M. Laffey (Moose), Edgar Lopez (Billy), Tim Martin (Wyatt), Dylan Pass (Sam), Michael Stancliff (Pete), and Chad Takeda (Jimmy) match them every step of the way as the production’s triple-threat-tastic cowboys, each and every showgal and cowpoke dazzling in one precision tap number after another in addition to acting and singing their roles like pros. Hooks, Laffey, and Pass score extra vocal points for their reprise en français of “Bidin’ My Time.”
Dustin Ceithamer recreates Stroman’s Tony-winning original choreography to razor-sharp perfection, and while “Slap That Bass” and the eight-minute non-stop high-energy “I Got Rhythm” may be the two most memorable of the bunch, they’re just two among too many show-stoppers to count.
Music director Marc Macalintal coaxes top-notch vocal performances from the entire cast, singing to prerecorded tracks which sound almost live on Candlelight’s top-class sound system.
The production’s more than adequate sets and a whole bunch of fabulous cowboys-and-showgirls costumes by The Theatre Company (and coordinated by Jenny Wentworth) are vibrantly lit by Nick Van Houten for SteveGDesign. Mary Warde’s wigs score high marks as well.
Snyder is dance captain and Emily Dauwalder assists both director and choreographer. Logan Grosjean is stage manager and Orlando Montes technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval’s serve up Candlelight’s invariably scrumptious cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, production manager Dale, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.
Like the most dancetastic Candlelight Pavillion Dinner Theatre productions before it, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Sweet Charity, and Anything Goes coming immediately to mind, Crazy For You proves a bona fide crowd-pleaser for young and old alike.
To paraphrase the multiple-Tony-winner’s title, you’re going to go crazy—and then some—for Crazy For You.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
March 23, 2014
Photos: Kirklyn Robinson