Entertainment » Theatre

Crazy for You

by J. Peter Bergman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Aug 19, 2009
Emily Thompson and Colin Pritchard in Crazy for You.
Emily Thompson and Colin Pritchard in Crazy for You.  

Okay, I can be easy. Give me even 20-tapping feet and I'm happy. When the cast of Crazy For You gets down to work, there are at least 42-tapping feet on the circular stage at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, which makes me as happy as a pig in you-know-what. Of course when the dancing is exceptional and the number is choreographed with glee then I am transported. That's what happened at this performance.

Crazy For You is really the Gershwin Brothers 1930 musical hit Girl Crazy - filmed twice and almost three times (if you count the version with Liberace and Connie Francis) - with a revamped book and a bunch of Gershwin songs not written for the original production. Starring Harry Groener and Jodi Benson, the new-old musical was hugely successful, winning a Tony for Best Musical that year and running 1,622 performances.

The chosen songs cover the gamut of the Gershwin's career, ranging from The Real American Folksong (1918) through titles from 1937's Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers' hit A Damsel in Distress. In fact the visual inspiration for the show was clearly the films of Astaire and Rogers; Rogers also played the lead female role in Girl Crazy (which also starred Ethel Merman) and Fred secretly choreographed a number for that show.

At the Mac-Haydn a youthful cast exhaust themselves, and the audience too, in 23 songs over the musical's two hours and forty-three minutes running time. I don't usually like pastiche shows like this one, but this is an exception. It was wonderful to see it again and to see it so very well performed. Though the production points up some difficult things about current performance practice. I have been seated now in every section of the theater, and there are always difficulties hearing the actors. Whether they have been instructed not to project because they are wearing body mikes, or whether they are simply not trained to project their voices, it was increasingly more difficult to hear lyrics. Additionally the band was excessively loud (due to the synthesizer and drums combo). I was in the second row and could not hear the soloists most of the time; but when I could hear them it was almost as good as watching them dance.

Colin Pritchard plays Bobby Child, a New York banker who wants to be a hoofer on Broadway. Pritchard is nice-looking, has charm and can sing, act and dance. His Bobby has a sweet sensibility that comes to the fore and when he impersonates an impresario he does it so well that even I was initially fooled (and I know the story). He and Ben Jacoby indulge in a hilarious second act scene of mimicry and mockery that is so funny it practically stops the show cold. Jacoby is a wonderful Bela Zangler, making more of a secondary role than he has this summer in some of his leading parts. Their duet What Causes That? is a gem.

As Polly, a woman of the West, Emily Thompson is a joy. Her refreshing good looks and her unstrained enthusiasm for performance give energy to her role that is very appropriate here. She dances wonderfully, too and sings her ballads in a fine, plaintive voice.

The chorus here is what makes this musical the spectacle that it is, start to finish.

Quinto Ott is very funny as Eugene Fodor and Kendall Chaffee-Standish does well as his wife, Patricia. Joe Bettles is marvelous as Lank, a cowpoke-entrepreneur. Karla Shook does well as Irene, the vamp and her performance is matched in enthusiasm by Carol Charniga's version of Lottie Child, Bobby's mother.

But this isn't a show that showcases just the talents of the leading players. The chorus here is what makes this musical the spectacle that it is, start-to-finish. Director Tralen Doler's dances have so much energy that it is surprising that the lights don't dim while they are on. The first act finale, I Got Rhythm, went on for more than eleven minutes; even at that length, I hoped for a full encore.

This year's crop of talent is amazing at the Mac-Haydn. It extends to the designers, who have delivered exquisite productions, including Jimm Halliday whose costumes here for this show are so wonderful and quirky and delicious, from cowboy outfits with chaps to showgirl spectacular's with headdresses that would have made Ziegfeld jealous. The most amazing thing about Halliday's output here is how well the clothes dance. They move with their occupants in such a way that you would swear the clothing was merely the outer layer of skin. They are that good and that appropriate to the large company of players.

Joshua Zecher-Ross, the musical director, keeps the tempos bright and lets the songs dictate the performance pace. He is proving himself once again to the right choice for this material. Matt Ward's sets are fun and do everything they need to do, which is sometimes amazing stuff. Andrew Gmoser's lighting design plays with mood, place and time of day in just the right way.

I cannot say enough good things about Crazy For You, so I will stop soon and let you just go and see it for yourself. But I must congratulate Doler for his work with this amazing cast. It is rare that so many people can do so much so well for so long for so little (I am sure they are all underpaid for this one). Crazy For You is something you'd be crazy to miss, so get your tickets, polish up your tap shoes and get a move on, partner.

Crazy For You runs through August 23 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Route 203, just north of the center of Chatham, New York. For information and tickets call 518-392-9292.

J. Peter Bergman is a journalist and playwright,living in Berkshire County, MA. A founding board member of the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition and former New York Correspondent for London’s Gay News, he spent a decade as theater music specialist for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives at Lincoln Center in NYC, is the co-author of the recently re-issued The Films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and a Charles Dickens Award winner (2002) for his collection of short fiction, "Counterpoints." His new novel ""Small Ironies" was well reviewed on Edge and in other venues as well. His features and reviews can also be read in The Berkshire Eagle and other regional publications. His current season reviews can be found on his website: www.berkshirebrightfocus.com. He is a member of NGLJA.


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