Gershwin Score, Great Cast Light Up Reagle’s ‘Crazy for You’ (5 Stars)
by Mike Hoban
Crazy For You – Book by Ken Ludwig; Lyrics by Ira Gershwin; Music by George Gershwin; Original Choreography by Susan Stroman reproduced by Eileen Grace. Directed by Kirby Ward; Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez. Presented by Reagle Music Theatre at the Robinson Theater, 617 Lexington St. Waltham through August 14, 2016. See www.reaglemusictheatre.com.
One of the problems with most modern musical comedies is that you don’t often find a work that actually gets both the music and the comedy right. But with ‘Crazy for You’, Reagle Theatre closes out its outstanding summer season with a gem of a musical comedy that delivers hugely on both fronts. Powered by a Gershwin score (music by George, lyrics by Ira), some outstanding choreography and a heavy dose of physical comedy and vaudeville-era jokes, this 1992 re-imagining of the 1930 musical ‘Girl Crazy’ (with a host of songs also pulled from various other Gershwin-penned shows) is a throwback to every ‘Hey, Kids! Let’s Put on a Show!’ musical ever made – only it does it better than nearly all of them.
The show is pure and unadulterated entertainment, and this Reagle production fires on all cylinders. Anchored by a cast that combines Broadway veterans (and married couple) Kirby and Beverly Ward with Boston musical comedy standout Aimee Doherty and fringe favorite Matthew Zahnzinger with the Reagle’s deep stable of ensemble players, ‘Crazy For You’ is that rare treat that allows you check your mind at the door and just soak it all in.
The thin plotline is secondary to the musical and dance numbers and the comedy, but tells the tale of Bobby Child, a spoiled man-boy who would rather be a song and dance man than a banker, as his mother (the steely Susan Scannell) insists. His domineering and equally wealthy fiancé Irene Roth (Doherty) doesn’t care what he does for a living as long as they tie the knot, but his heart belongs to the stage. Mom threatens to cut him off from his inheritance if he doesn’t straighten out, and gives him one last chance to redeem himself. She sends him out to pre-Las Vegas Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a property, that – unbeknownst to him – is home to a near defunct theater. Upon arrival, he meets Polly Baker, the alluring daughter of the theater owner, and it’s love at first sight. He woos her with the help of the brilliant dance number, “Shall We Dance”, and she falls for him, too. But once she finds out his purpose for being in town is to foreclose on the theater, she tells him she never wants to see him again. So he disguises himself as Flo Zeigfeld knockoff Bela Zangler (with the “real” Zangler played by Zahnzinger) to win her heart by convincing the townspeople and Polly to stage a show to raise the money to stave off foreclosure, and the love game is on.
Will they fall in love and save the theater? Of course, but not until we are treated to a gorgeous journey through the Gershwin section of the Great American Songbook. In addition to “Shall We Dance”, the show includes terrific versions of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You”, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, and a brilliantly choreographed “I’ve Got Rhythm” that brings down the house and the curtain on the first act.
Kirby Ward played the lead in the original London production of this show in 1993, and he and wife Beverly are reprising their roles from a Reagle production in 2005, but they bring a fresh energy to their performances. In addition to his prodigious hoofer skills, Kirby possesses solid comic chops, and is a riot as Zangler in disguise. Beverly Ward brings a real depth of character to Polly, while also deftly handling the physical comedy required by the tomboyish side of the role. Doherty is a howl as Irene, especially during her “Naughty Baby” quasi-dominatrix number, and Zahnzinger more than holds his own with the veteran Kirby Ward in a very funny number involving dueling Zanglers in the “What Causes That?” routine. Rachel Abbate and Anna Chensny provide great support respectively as showgirls Tess (Zangler’s love interest) and the ditsy Patsy.
Under the able direction of Daniel Rodriguez, the orchestra easily switches gears from lush orchestral arrangements to a killer Big Band on numbers like “I Got Rhythm”. Choreographer Eileen Grace elicits terrific performances from the cast in her reproduction of Susan Stroman’s original choreography, and the costumes (from the original Broadway production) are out of this world, particularly the ridiculously large headpieces worn by the showgirls and the stylish outfits worn by Irene and Mrs. Child. This is a don’t miss production – not only for lovers of musical theater but for those who want to see the American Songbook brought to life.
For more info, go to www.reaglemusictheatre.com.