By Bridgette M. Redman
Composer and lyricist George and Ira Gershwin share a talent with playwright Ken Ludwig. The trio know how to delight an audience. Put them together and you get the Tony-award winning 1992 musical “Crazy for You.”
The Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater has picked the perfect crowd-pleaser for its audience. Ludwig packed the musical with 22 Gershwin standards such as “Krazy for You,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It.” The plot is pure Ludwig with mix-ups, disguises and plenty of slapstick.
The result is a fun, fluffy tribute to the musicals of the 1930s and the type of shows that the late Gershwins were famous for. The book so seamlessly incorporates the Gershwin songs that one could almost believe they were written for the musical rather than the story for the songs.
The tap dancing extravaganza features 23 actors. Would-be Dancer Bobby Childs wants nothing more than to perform in Zangler’s Follies while his controlling mother and bossy fiancee want him to settle down in business. He gets sent off to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theater. Instead, he falls in love with Polly Baker and offers to help her save the theater in the style made famous by such classics as “White Christmas,” “Babes in Arms” and the Gershwin production that this musical is based on, “Girl Crazy”: They decide to put on a show.
Mix in cowpokes, an almost-villainous saloon owner, chorus girls and English hotel writers, and you have the makings of “Crazy for You,” a fun musical in which every role was well-cast and with the exception of the male lead, performed with flair and energy.
Ali Gritz’ Polly, the only woman in the town of Deadrock, is a combination of every spunky, tomboyish heroine in the musical canon. Gritz partners her congenial smile with a strong voice that makes her the show’s charmer. She makes the most out of a role that has little depth or uniqueness. Rather, she is a character of nostalgia, a reminder of Annie Oakley or Cole Porter’s Lilli Vanessi.
Given that it is set in the 1930s, we can even forgive Ludwig for his stereotypical, cardboard portrayals of women and the relationships between men and women. The women get slotted into spunky or cute or sultry with their only motivation being to get us to the next dance number.
Timothy Fuchs, who played the hapless Bobby Childs, lacked the charisma of the typical leads from the era, though his tap dancing skills were impressive. He was most appealing when he disguised himself as Bela Zangler — and inspired the melancholy cowboys to find their rhythm. In a cast full of strong voices that carried well in the old-fashioned opera house, Fuchs’ voice weakened in the numbers that stretched his range. He had the look and moves for the role, but neither the voice nor the charm.
The trio of harmonizing cowboys — Moose, Mingo and Sam, played respectively by Douglas Robbins, Ryan McDonald and Dick Baker — were clowns in the tradition of Shakespeare, expert at slapstick and committed to broad, entertaining choices. Their ensemble of lethargic characters paradoxically injected energy into the scenes in Deadrock with voices that playfully juggled notes and tossed harmonies back and forth to each other.
Nor were the trio of cowboys the only exuberant ensemble in the cast. The six Follies girls and the “drab denizens of Deadrock” all melded into a perfect chorus of blended voices and high-kicking big dance numbers. Paul Kerr and Kiersten Vorhies joined the show in the latter part of the first half to play the delightfully doofy English tourists Eugene and Patricia Fodor who are blissfully and enthusiastically out of place with their dress, mannerisms, and way of speaking.
Director Kevin Halpin led a fast-paced show in which the rapid set changes from exterior to interior and from New York to Deadrock were handled with a choreography as fluid as the dance numbers. The main flaw in his direction was the lack of attention to sight lines for those seated anywhere but the center or the balcony. It was too easy from even an aisle seat to see into the backstage where actors and techs milled about waiting for cues and entrances.
“Crazy for You” is a perfect summer musical with its festive, nostalgic feel and its joyful celebration of musical standards from the golden era.
‘Crazy for You’
Tibbits Summer Theatre, 14 S. Hanchett St., Coldwater. Wednesday-Saturday through July 17. $12-$26. 517-278-6029. http://www.tibbits.org