— Photo Credit: David Cooper.
CRAZY FOR YOU – THE NEW GERSHWIN MUSICAL
If you’re looking for an upbeat, funny, secular alternative to Christmas carols, Christmas pantos and Christmas sentiment, look no further than Richmond’s Gateway Theatre. Gateway’s holiday show, Crazy for You – The New Gershwin Musical, is crazy good entertainment.
A Tony and Olivier Award winner for best musical in New York and London, Crazy for You is an absolute showcase for the depth of musical theatre talent that has developed in Metro Vancouver over the past decade or so. The very high-calibre professionalism on display here ranges from the star power of the terrific leads right down to the last chorus character in the 24-person cast, the musicianship of the 10-piece orchestra, all the design elements, snappy direction and outstanding choreography. The dancing is simply exhilarating.
American playwright Ken Ludwig has created a ridiculously delightful pastiche, his book loosely based on George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 musical Girl Crazy, which contained some of their biggest hits: “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” “But Not for Me.” Ludwig poached from some of their other shows another bunch of great Gershwin tunes – “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It” – and built a wacky plot around every cliché of Broadway musical comedy.
Bobby (talented Gaelan Beatty) just wants to be a hoofer in Zangler’s Follies on Broadway but his rich mother (Wendy Bollard) wants him to be a banker. When Bobby is sent to Deadrock in the Nevada desert to foreclose on a bankrupt theatre, Mom, kvetchy fiancée Irene (Britt MacLeod), impresario Bela Zangler himself (Jonathan Holmes) and the entire bevy of Zangler’s singing/dancing beauties somehow follows.
Deadrock’s spunky Polly (Kate Blackburn) is trying to keep the town’s theatre alive. When she and Bobby quickly fall in love, he vows to help her by—what else—putting on a show, using the local cowpokes and Zangler’s leggy dancers. But when Polly discovers that he’s from the bank, Bobby has to disguise himself as Zangler. Many complications ensue as sleepy Deadrock rocks awake, boys get girls and vice versa.
Beatty is sensational as Bobby. Quick and slick, funny and relaxed, he has great presence, a nice singing voice and tap dances like a dream. Whether in solos or dancing with Polly or the chorus, Beatty owns this show. Blackburn is no slouch either. Showing off a lovely voice, she sings the Gershwins’ best songs and her Polly is tough and graceful. She has a way with a comic line, too. Listen to her describe her feelings for the man she thinks is Zangler: “Whenever I’m with him I feel something strange—down in my basement.”
Rubber-limbed Jonathan Holmes is a comic treat. In one of the highlights of the show Holmes’ Zangler and Beatty’s Zangler-in-disguise perform a lengthy mirroring routine straight out of vaudeville, its crisp precision a credit to director Barbara Tomasic.
The Zangler role is pretty small so it’s fun to see Holmes double as a goofy, intrepid, google-eyed Brit who stumbles into Deadrock with his wife (Bollard again) to write a tourist guidebook. They’re the Fodors, and they’re hilarious. This is a typical kind of random gag Ludwig builds into his plot—and then he grabs a tune called “Stiff Upper Lip” from another of the Gershwin shows and the Brits become an excuse for a sensationally good song-and-dance number.
The show really shines in these big, brassy ensembles. The upbeat choral numbers feature spectacular dancing, mostly tap, dynamically shaped by Julie Tomaino’s lively choreography. And this production vividly illustrates the theatrical cliché that there are no small parts. Everyone gets a gag or two and everyone is involved in the big numbers. “I Got Rhythm,” the showstopper that brings the curtain down on Act One, may be the best musical eight minutes you’ll have experienced in a local theatre in this year of excellent musicals.
Gateway’s design team more than rises to the occasion. Marshall McMahen’s handsome set switches back and forth from a Broadway street with a functional limo to a western town with a theatre without any time wasted on scene changes. Everyone looks great in Carmen Alatorre’s costumes, and John Webber lights the stage in luminous pastels. Bradley Danyluk’s sound design and Christopher King’s musical direction ensure that we hear both the music and the lyrics.
If you’re looking for a theatrical treat this holiday season, you’d be crazy not to see this show.