Just in time for the holidays, Signature Theatre has gifted local audiences with an exuberant musical that includes much-loved songs by George and Ira Gershwin, expertly choreographed dance numbers by Denis Jones, and fetching performances by Broadway favorites Ashley Spencer and Danny Gardner, as well as by Signature mainstays Bobby Smith, Sherri L. Edelen, Maria Rizzo, and Natascia Diaz. Hands down, it’s the most fun you will have in the theater this season. Take your significant other, take the kids, take your friends, but – go!
The book by Ken Ludwig can best be summed up as “boy finds girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl back,” a not unfamiliar theme employed by musicals during the Golden Age. Crazy for You is based on the 1930 musical, Girl Crazy, with songs added from other productions. Some songs fit within the story structure better than others, but Gershwin fans won’t care. It’s a thrill to experience live performances of American Song Book classics like “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Things Are Looking Up,” and “Stiff Upper Lip.” And the strong voices in the cast are more than up to delivering these iconic songs with verve and emotion.
This musical is one that was meant for a larger venue, yet Signature’s smaller stage affords the audience the opportunity to have a front row seat (literally in some cases), with the action. Director Matthew Gardiner employs not only the main stage but also the side aisles for various scenes and dance numbers, showcasing the cast’s energy and enthusiasm. Even during the most intensive tap numbers, the actors’ broad smiles deliver the message that they are having the time of their lives. That spirit is contagious.
Danny Gardner with the Follies Girls
Gardner plays Bobby Child, whose mother (one of two roles performed by the excellent Edelen) expects him to take his place in the family’s banking business. An inveterate hoofer, Bobby is determined to pursue a dancing career, specifically in a Bela Zangler production. Zangler (Smith, as usual, transforms himself, this time into a character modeled after Broadway impresario Florenz Zigfeld) dismisses the young dancer during an impromptu audition. (It doesn’t help that Bobby lands on Zangler’s foot.) When confronted about his future plans by his mother and fiancé, Irene (Diaz), Bobby imagines himself dancing in a Zangler musical. In “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” Child is joined by the Follies Girls, whose precision dancing brings to mind The Rockettes. The ruffled costumes (Tristan Raines) and lavender wigs (Leah Loukas) in this number are pure confection.
Faced with few alternatives, Bobby agrees to go to Nevada, specifically to a former gold-mine town called Deadrock, where the bank intends to foreclose on the Gaiety Theater. In its heyday, the Gaiety packed them in with prospectors and visitors flush with cash. Now, however, the theater is abandoned, its glory days memories to Everett Baker (Harry A. Winter), whose wife was once the theater’s biggest star. Baker’s daughter, Polly (Spencer), has inherited her mother’s talents, but now runs the family’s ranch.
Ashley Spencer, Harrison Smith, A. Ross Neal, Kurt Boehm (Photo by Christopher Mueller)
After an hour walk from the train station, Bobby arrives in Deadrock parched and passes out. When he’s revived, he immediately falls for Polly, capturing his feelings in the upbeat “Things Are Looking Up.” Although Lank Hawkins (Cole Burden), who owns the adjacent hotel, want to buy the theater, Bobby convinces Polly they can raise the necessary funds by putting on a show. “Mickey Rooney does it all the time,” he tells her. But when Polly learns that Bobby represents the bank, she doesn’t trust his motives and rejects his offer and his advances. She expresses her regrets in a heartfelt “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
What’s a guy to do? Bobby manages to get the Follies Girls to Deadrock. But to give his proposal credibility he decides to impersonate Zangler. His plot works too well. Polly signs onto the project and falls in love with Bobby’s Zangler. Bobby is in despair as she sings “Embraceable You” to his Zangler. But the show must go on and in short time, Bobby/Zangler manages to integrate the miners and cowboys into the cast. The inventive “Slap That Bass” has these gruff and dusty men displaying their newfound musical talents.
Danny Gardner and Bobby Smith
While the show comes together, the crowds stay away. But the town still finds reason to celebrate with a very spirited “I Got Rhythm,” the entire cast tap-dancing as one. (If this doesn’t make you get out those old tap shoes, nothing will.) The first act ends with the real Zangler showing up and passing out. In Act Two, Bobby and Bela are mirror images in “What Causes That.” Zangler, now divorced has come to Deadlock to find his love, Tess (Rizzo), while Bobby is still stinging from Polly’s rejection. A new arrival is Irene, who finally understands that her engagement to Bobby is over. She finds a willing substitute in Lank, and wins him over with a sultry “Naughty Baby.”
Sherri L. Edelen with the Cast
Anyone wondering how “Stiff Upper Lip” would fit into this musical, gets an answer with the appearance of a British couple (Edelen and Thomas Adrian Simpson) as the travel book experts, Eugene and Patricia Fodor. They are a hoot! And Edelen gets to show off her own tapping talents, bringing the audience in on her fun with a wink and a playful smile.
A musical needs a terrific orchestra and Signature is once again blessed with Jon Kalbfleisch directing a 14-piece ensemble. Although we never get to see these fabulous musicians, they are responsible for elevating this production to a level, these days, often lacking even on Broadway. Bravo!
Scenic design by Paul Tate Depoo III takes us with little fuss from the great white way of Broadway to the dusty confines of Deadrock with panoramic backdrops. Lighting design by Jason Lyons complements the scenery. Sound design by Ryan Hickey underscores the action without overwhelming eardrums.
Ashley Spencer and Danny Gardner
Crazy for You is, after all, a love story and the good news is that sparks do fly between Gardner and Spencer. Whether they are facing off in a lover’s quarrel, trying to outdo each other in a dance number (a sight to behold), or singing a romantic Gershwin ballad, they are fun to watch and easy to root for. And once Irene has tamed Lank, this couple wins over our hearts, too.
During intermission, one woman was overheard telling her companion, “I can’t wait to go home to watch some Fred Astaire films.” Signature’s Crazy for You has that effect. See it now. Save Fred for later.
Photos by C. Stanley Photography
Crazy for You
4200 Campbell Avenue