When the resonant opening bars of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ float out from a solo clarinet high up on the stage, the scene is set for what is essentially a celebration of the Gershwin brothers’ sublime music. The Watermill Theatre touring production of Crazy for You is propelled along with incredible energy by its hard working cast, and provides a glimpse of the glory of the lush 1930s musical theatre style.
As is often the case in the classic musicals, the storyline is fairly simplistic, focusing on ‘boy meets girl’ with some mistaken identity thrown in for good measure. Bobby Child is a frustrated New York dancer impelled to work as a banker by his domineering mother. When the opportunity arises for him to escape both his mother and a demanding fiancé Irene Roth (Claire Sweeney), he takes the chance to visit Deadrock, Nevada. Ostensibly there to close a failing theatre, he falls in love with the local Post Mistress, Polly, and then attempts to put on a show to help save the theatre.
Bobby is played by Tom Chambers, and the dancing skill evident when he won Strictly Come Dancing is clearly on display. Not only that, but he is virtually acrobatic in the leaps, slides, tilts and jumps he manages, all on top of a dazzling array of tap, soft shoe shuffle and ballroom. He plays Bobby as a rather innocent, almost child-like character and this provides him the opportunity to optimise the comedic content of the show.
Charlotte Wakefield takes on the role of the independent minded Polly Baker and does so with apparent ease and effortlessness. Her voice is strong and rich, shown off particularly well in the alluring ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’. Her dancing is very naturalistic and graceful as well as her feisty character drawing us in.
The rest of the cast is made up of many actor musicians who provide all the music live on-stage – and that is quite some achievement when they are all also singing and dancing (though not necessarily all at the same time). The musical arrangements by Catherine Jayes are rich and mellow, and this talented team really do them homage. The actors make the instruments so much a part of their characters that it at no time feels intrusive. ‘I Got Rhythm’ closes the first act in a complicated sequence of choreography and musicianship that is almost bewildering, musical phrases overlapping each other on different instruments.
The dual location of New York v Nevada is simply conveyed with a change of backcloth and the ‘stage within a stage’ used to good effect with different levels and entrances to keep the movement interesting and dynamic. Together with beautifully detailed costumes and effective lighting, they all combine well to create different moods. Props are used to great effect to create opportunities for the cast to dance off and around.
There is a slight dissonance between the fast-paced comedy of the script and the sultry music in numbers such as ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’. This is undoubtedly as a result of Crazy for You being an amalgam of a few earlier musicals the Gershwins had written. Director Paul Hart has taken this one step further and added in a few more songs, such as ‘Stairway to Paradise’, from An American in Paris. However, the energy and commitment with which this cast presents the show knits together the comedy and music to superb effect. After all, it’s ‘Nice Work if You Can Get It’.
Crazy for You is on at the Curve Theatre, Leicester until Saturday 9th June.
Reviewer: Kathryn McAuley.