theatre preview

Theatre Under the Stars
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
July 14 - August 21

Large-scale, Broadway-style musicals are among the great pleasures of the modern theatre. But because they require large casts, live music, and substantial production values, theatrical economics militate against them. In a medium-sized market like Vancouver with its notoriously fickle audiences, they can be a killer. One need look no further than The Centre. Or the Playhouse. Last season’s Hello, Dolly nearly bankrupted the Playhouse, which subsequently announced that it would no longer program a musical in its season.

And yet, paradoxically, Broadway is thriving in Vancouver. The Canadian College of Performing Arts on Vancouver Island is producing trained young musical theatre artists in abundance for the local market, and performers from elsewhere in Canada continue to gravitate here. This influx of talent is evidenced in the musicals produced by the Arts Club and, until recently, the Playhouse, by slick semi-pro organizations like Uncle Randy Productions, by the many co-op musicals that play the city. And by Theatre Under the Stars.

Crazy for You, with book by Ken Ludwig and music by the Gershwins, requires a large cast with good voices, excellent dance skills (especially tap), first-rate choreography, imaginative set design and stylish, expensive-looking costumes, plus the acting talent to make a deceptively difficult, corny vaudeville comedy style work. (She: “Can you give me a room and a bath?” Saloonkeeper: “I can give you a room but you’ll have to take your own bath.”) Well, does this production ever deliver the goods.

The story is self-parodic Broadway kitsch: New Yorker Bobby, who wants to sing and dance with Bela Zangler’s Follies, ends up in Deadrock, Nevada, trying to save the town’s little theatre for Polly, the feisty local gal he immediately falls for. The debonair Bela himself eventually shows up, along with the Follies chorus girls, and all team up with the local yokels to sing, dance, save the day, and pair off into couples.

So much about this production is impressive, beginning with its size: nine principals, an ensemble of 20 men and women, and a 20-piece orchestra under Wendy Bross Stuart. The principals are extremely effective, especially Patrick Lambier as Bobby and Lalainia Lindbjerg as Polly. Lindbjerg is the stronger singer, but both meet the challenge of splendid Gershwin tunes like “Someone to Watch over Me,” “They Can‘t Take That Away from Me,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” As Zangler, Michael Walker is probably the strongest actor in the company. The scene where he and Bobby-disguised-as-Zangler face off is one of the best in the show.

Full credit to director and choreographer Scott Drewitz for the ensemble numbers, where this production really shines. In one a leggy chorus girl in blonde wig and skimpy pink outfit climbs out from under the hood of Bobby’s mother’s limousine to dance with him, followed by nine more identically clad babes who pile out of the back seat for the big production. In another, to the tune of “I’ve Got Rhythm,” the ensemble does a series of spectacular dance-and-rhythm manoeuvres including a sequence where the girls hold gold-mining pans above their heads and high-kick them in unison followed by the guys tap-dancing on them. Throughout, Rachel Berchtold’s dozens of costumes provide spectacular eye-candy.

The comedy is sometimes too corny, the playing at times a little too cartoonish, and the show feels long in places, too slight for two plus hours. But if your taste runs to big, brassy, silly, tuneful, colourful musical comedy done with talent and panache, this show gives you your money’s worth and more.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:09 PM
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