Crazy for You

Ken Ludwig, Music and lyrics George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin.
Chichester Festival Theatre
Festival Theatre, Chichester

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Carlie Anderson as Polly and Charlie Stemp as Bobby Credit: Johan Persson
Merryl-Ansah as Irene Ruth Credit: Johan Persson
Charlie Stemp as Bobby and Tom Eddem as Bela Zangler Credit: Johan Persson

From the moment the curtain rises (yes there is a curtain) and the raised set (designer Beowulf Boritt) erupts onto the stage bringing forth the ‘Follies’ girls in their magnificent, spectacular costumes (William Ivey Long), I and the rest of the audience are totally hooked. The spontaneous applause here nearly stops the show even before it has really begun. Fantastic!

The story is not exceptional. Bobby (Charlie Stemp) meets Polly (Carly Anderson) when sent to foreclose on a mortgage in ‘Deadbeat’ a practically deserted former mining town in Nevada. Hating his job, and really wanting to dance, he finds a community which has given up on life but also finds a nearly derelict theatre which inspires him to restore this, and the town, to its former glory, beginning by putting on a show.

The real essence of the tale (apart from boy meets girl etc.) demonstrates that art and culture, mixed with some love and purpose, can restore life and spirit in a community which has lost all hope. "I Can’t be Bothered Now" turns into "Just Bidin’ My Time" followed by "Things Are Looking Up", but when the despondent inhabitants get the idea of rhythm, there is no stopping them. It’s not long before they find a use for all their farming implements, keeping the beat going with whatever is to hand and, inspired by Moose (a rather endearing Marc Akinfolarin), who really gets into the swing with "Slap that Bass", once he gets the hang of which way up to hold it.

There are twelve musical numbers in act 1, followed by seven more in act 2, so the orchestra (under the direction of Alan Williams) has a lot to cope with, and magnificently rises to the occasion with the orchestration following the action perfectly—particularly noticeable with Polly’s "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "They Can’t Take That Away From Me" when it seems the music is crying with them poignantly and with longing.

Tom Edden’s hilarious Bela Zangler (Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.?) is the main focus of the comic element of this show, but Ken Ludwig’s script creates humour throughout, sometimes understated and often blatant with some silliness too, which also is perfectly executed with precision and symmetry when the two Bela Zanglers mirror each other, expressions and attitudes adding visual to action. The two English travellers who arrive are way, way over the top with their ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ and their upper class accents—is this what Americans think of us? No matter, they are still good fun.

Music and dancing are of course the main focus of Susan Stroman’s superb production, and she has created some stunning choreography, imaginative and unusual, giving some challenges to the dancers. Stars that they are, they perform everything thrown at them seemingly with complete ease and, talking of throwing, they even have to be expert with ‘throw and catch’… spot on every time. I can only imagine the very many hours of rehearsal, and the forensic attention to detail which must have gone in to achieve such perfection.

Charlie Stemp is, of course, that star among stars. His dancing had me gasping in amazement with what he could achieve in dance, athleticism and stamina, always performed with style, well complemented by Carlie Anderson’s Polly.

An evening of exceptional joyous entertainment, combined with total respect for every aspect of this perfectly balanced, superb production. I left on a cloud of euphoria.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor