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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Review: Rhythm, Music and a fine leading man... who could ask for anything more? Crazy For You opens at the Stratford Festival

Crazy for You
Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin; Book by Ken Ludwig
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore
Musical direction by Shelly Hanson
Designed by Debra Hanson
Josh Franklin (centre) as Bobby Child, with members of the company.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
The Story: Bobby Child is a fellow who wants to be a song and dance man, but whose Manhattan mother wants him to work in a bank. She sends him to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theatre, where Bobby promptly falls in love with Polly, daughter of the theatre's owner, who will have nothing to do with him. He disguises himself as Bela Zangler, Theatre Producer, and persuades the townsfolk to put on a show to save the theatre, and perhaps the sleepy town, from ruin. All goes swimmingly until the real Zangler shows up, and well...

Natalie Daradich as Polly.
Photo: Cyll von Tiedeman

Ok, the screwball story is lifted from any Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland flick (most closely Girl Crazy), but that's ok, since the cheeky script calls attention to that very fact, and the leading lady, Natalie Daradich, has the same spunk, and vocal style (plus the adorable dimples) of said Judy.  But director Donna Feore doesn't just make a silk purse out of this sow's ear of a plot, she makes a veritable Prada. 

First, she went further afield to find her leading man - one who is definitely more Carey Grant than Mickey Rooney (yay!) - pulling a true song-and-dance man, Josh Franklin, in from New York to do the heavy lifting - the show rests very solidly on his broad shoulders. He has a fine voice, great comedic timing, and that charisma that cannot be taught - not an "aw, shucks" charm, but a sophisticated twinkle that one cannot help but like instantly. It is evident that he works hard at his craft from the way he shares the limelight with his very varied co-stars, Natalie Daradich (Polly), Tom Rooney (Zangler), Robin Hutton (Irene) and Kayla James (Tess).

A total and completely delightful surprise was seeing Tom Rooney create an utterly hilarious Bela Zangler. Mr. Rooney, an actor of much natural gravity, uses this gift to play Zangler almost deadpan, even while wobbling drunkenly all over the set. His foil in this Marx-Brother-like scene is the imposter-Zangler Josh Franklin, and together they create their own version of a show stopper (it is hard to go on while your audience passes out from laughing so hard).

Robin Hutton as Irene.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Likewise, Robin Hutton shows off some previously unseen comedic chops as the ditched (and sexually frustrated) fiancee Irene, illustrating how an actor can use dance to seem both sexy and klutzy simultaneously.  By contrast, Kayla James and the other dancers, male and female, show the sexy side of pure athleticism as they tap, jive and waltz around the stage.

Which brings up the second smart move by their director. Ms. Feore very adamantly rejected copying the 1992 Broadway production or 2012 British remount. Her choreography and Shelly Hanson's musical direction reaches back to the very core of America's cultural heritage: tap-dance, jazz, and the swinging, crazy, flying dances it birthed, the jitterbug and Lindy hop. Numbers like Slap that Bass and I Got Rhythm both threatened to stop the show on opening night, and Ms. Feore uses the round thrust stage to its best advantage, keeping it relatively bare during these numbers to give the dancers space to do what they do best (better than any in recent history, in fact), and often recalling the Busby Berkeley patterns of legs and various other body parts that must make this a gorgeous show to see from the balcony. 

Members of the Company.
Photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann
In fact, this may be what makes Crazy For You the perfect musical for theatre aficionados and for the Stratford Festival in particular - especially for those who claim to prefer Shakespeare, and give a slight sniff to musicals (you know who you are). 

Because at its core, Ken Ludwig's book is a love-letter to theatre. It is a love of theatre and performing which revitalizes a man, an entire town, drives relationships and brings a community together - because, as crazy as that plot sounds, that is exactly what happened in our very own Stratford, Ontario.  Sometimes art does imitate life after all.

Crazy For You continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 12.

Marcus Nance, Steve Ross and Stepehen Patterson.
Photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann


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