mon 24/06/2024

Crazy For You, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park | reviews, news & interviews

Crazy For You, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Crazy For You, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

A larky evening of Gershwin amidst London's lockdown

Ruthie Henshall re-dux? Clare Foster brings a supple soprano to 'Crazy For You' alfrescoAll images by Tristam Kenton

"Drop that long face," we're urged during the end of the giddy Regent's Park revival of Crazy For You, and if ever there were a time for such sentiments, it came during the lockdown that London remained under during the all too aptly cloud-filled evening that saw the Open Air Theatre not quite full.

Nor was it lost on many spectators that the glorious George and Ira Gershwin score was giddily filling a night air punctuated at regular intervals by the distant (or maybe not) sound of sirens.

But Timothy Sheader's production exerts its own siren song that functions as an escapist tonic inseparable from why we love musicals in the first place. Ken Ludwig's George and Ira Gershwin rewrite, first seen on Broadway in 1992 and the West End a year later, was never the most sophisticated entertainment, and it wouldn't be served by the sense of reappraisal that Sheader brought (not entirely successfully) to his Olivier Award-winning Into the Woods at this address last year. This piece is pretty much what it is.

On its own terms, though, the show delights throughout, barring some padding in the second act that includes a silly number - "Stiff Upper Lip" - whose faux-Anglicisms seem even more daft in England. (The song seems pitched at an American tourist market wanting life after Me and My Girl.) Look elsewhere, not least at Stephen Mear's exhilarating dances and the triple threat that is Broadway performer Sean Palmer in the leading role of banker-turned-hoofer Bobby Child, and you'll surely find that things are looking up. As a Gershwin song lyric once again puts it.

There's something sweet about a show positing the power of the theatre having a comparable effect on us as it does on the good, if occasionally gormless, folk of Deadrock, the Nevada outpost to which Bobby is dispatched by his termagant of a mum (Harriet Thorpe, wonderful) to foreclose on the town's lone, luckless playhouse. Instead, before you can say Andy Hardy, Bobby has fallen for the theatre owner's emotionally reluctant daughter, Polly (Clare Foster), and is putting on a show, which includes disguising himself as the florid New York-based impresario Bela Zangler - little aware that the actual Zangler is on his own way out west, as well; in that role, David Burt suggests Tim Curry crossed with another Bela, namely Lugosi.

Lend Me a Tenor follows more or less this show's same mistaken-identity blueprint, the difference being that Ludwig's book is wedded to a lustrous Gershwin score so packed with goodies that it can afford to tease us throughout with "Stairway to Paradise" without ever actually delivering that number in full. Instead, we get shimmering ballads, a drunken comic duet for the rival Belas, and all manner of opportunities for Mear to cut loose in ways that honor choreographer Susan Stroman's wildly acclaimed original dances while refashioning them here for a leggy female chorus, all of whom sound like Betty Boop, and a male contingent of deliberately slow-thinking if eventually high-stepping yokels. (Tellingly, they first appear bearing cacti!)

crazy2Crazy For You has great fun sending New York urbanity crashing into the cornpone ways of rural America, which are given gradually antic life in the company number "Slap That Bass", which starts with Carl Sanderson's lovably dim Moose having his own go at the instrument of the song's title. True to Stroman's 1990s template, Mear presses many a prop into action (check out "I Got Rhythm", the first-act finale pictured above) and incorporates what may be the first usage in my experience of a collective pee (as in urination, folks) feeding a particular musical moment. Burt's actual Zangler, in turn, offers up the best pratfalls since Tom Edden in One Man, Two Guvnors, leaving the ever-easeful Palmer to do his Gene Kelly thing, all smiles and suspenders as he slip-slides into position on "Shall We Dance"; that song, as it must, ends with a kiss. 

Foster could tone down the scowliness of her opening scenes, as if she were somehow determined to play Annie Oakley to Palmer's equivalent Frank Butler. (That said, it's fascinating the degree to which one can pair up considerable sections of this score with its Irving Berlin counterpart in Annie Get Your Gun.) But once this Polly begins to melt in the arms of the fake Bela, aka the real Bobby, Foster recovers her charm as well as a previously rather errant American accent, and her supple soprano is a pleasure to hear throughout.

Foster's smile, meanwhile, directly recalls the role's London originator, Ruthie Henshall, in much the same way that Peter McKintosh's flexible set pays alfresco homage to the Broadway designer Robin Wagner: not just his work on Crazy For You but The Producers and even Dreamgirls, as well. Let's just hope the various set pieces are less rickety than they would appear when Palmer leaps into view atop them. On the other hand, should poor weather rear up, he's well placed to proffer his own distinctive take on Singin' in the Rain.

I like, too, the deliberate artifice of a movable crescent moon that can be alternately cheesy and cheering, as required by a narrative whose outcome is rarely in doubt. So what if the plot of this "new" Gershwin show - a quasi-rewrite of Girl Crazy best seen as an entity all its own - somewhat runs out of gas just as Polly does in the plot device that returns her to Bobby in time for the (charming) final curtain? On my way to Tuesday's opening, I wondered whether London's prevailing unease made it crazy of me to venture out to Crazy For You. On that topic, as with so many, the Gershwins put it most pithily of all: who could ask for anything more?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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