George and Ira Gershwin first composed music for the romantic comedy film Girl Crazy in 1930, at the dawn of the golden age of the cinematic American musical, but the thirties in America were also famous for the Great Depression, and audiences craved the escapism offered by such musicals. Eight decades later, the name might have changed but the escapism hasn’t, as Crazy For You dazzles and delights anew in an age where we definitely need it again.
The story itself has little to say – the tale of budding but blundering performer Bobby, who’s sent to shut up a failing theatre in Nevada but ends up falling for the proprietor’s daughter Polly and putting on a show to save it – but it’s the score that’s literally the star of the show. Full of favourites from the Gershwin catalogue, including ‘Shall We Dance’, ‘I Got Rhythm’, and ‘Embraceable You’, the score is a jukebox of jazz classics that are joyful and filled with infectious rhythm that only catches quicker because it’s performed onstage by a crazily-skilled cast of actor-musicians. Nathan M Wright’s choreography incorporates the instruments into every number, including a wheel-mounted double bass, and Diego Pitarch’s gorgeous designs, set on-and-backstage in the Gaiety Theatre that Bobby sets off to save, go from dilapidated to dazzling under Howard Hudson’s ingenious lighting, and even make use of some meta-theatric tricks in revealing the run-down but once-magnificent theatre auditorium.
Along with the multi-talented actor-musicians, leading man Tom Chambers proves himself a triple-threat performer: attacking the tapping with true talent and singing the Gershwin songs with easy style, Chambers’ Bobby is a quick-witted, charismatic comedian whose unwavering broad smile and almost-manic acting style is tailor-made for the show’s traditional Broadway charm. A masterclass in physical performance, Chambers acts, sings and taps out of his skin, particularly impressing with his slapstick skills, impersonating the impresario as part of his plan, and dancing with Charlotte Wakefield’s plucky Polly, which wonderfully develops Bobby’s infatuation into a full-blown romance between the two. As a leading lady, Polly is a woman with a fierce front concealing a vulnerability that Wakefield’s crystal-clear voice elevates to the fore in her enviable solos. Caroline Flack plays Bobby’s floozy, fractious fiancé well in a walk-on part that doesn’t quite warrant the star-casting and second-billing, but she’s supported by an outstanding cast of comic cowboys and fabulous follies, with Ned Rudkins-Stow’s bass-slapping Moose and Seren Sandham-Davies’ slaphappy Patsy as the standouts.
Crazy For You is good, old-fashioned fun that features some of the Gershwins’ greatest songs, and, like the theatre at the centre of the story, it’s Gaiety in all its glory. - Leah Tozer