Theatre Review: Crazy For You @ Theatre Royal, Nottingham

Way back in Sixth Form, so long ago now it’s like a distant haze, my best friend and I were in a school production of “Crazy For You”.  When I saw it was touring the UK this year, it was a no-brainer to buy us both a ticket and take a wee trip down memory lane.

“Crazy For You” is what I think of as a proper, Golden Age musical, with mistaken identities, glitz and glamour and many much-beloved songs.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was in fact written as recently as 1992, although it is based on an earlier show, Girl Crazy from the 1930’s.

“Crazy for you” tells the story of Bobby Child, who dreams of being a Broadway star while his over-bearing mother pushes him into working for the family bank.  When Bobby is sent to the derelict town of Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on the local theatre, he meets the owner’s daughter, Polly.  Falling for her instantly, Bobby vows to save the theatre by putting on a show the likes of which Deadrock has never seen.

Featuring some of George and Ira Gershwin’s best-loved hits and a book by Ken Ludwig, “Crazy for You” is a fast-paced, witty romantic comedy and this recent UK tour is a lively, upbeat production that is sure to impress.

Tom Chambers is certainly the headline attraction of this production as the leading man, Bobby Child, a fact made abundantly clear when some members of the audience applauded and cheered the moment he arrived on stage. (For the record, I’m not particularly keen on this particular practice.  Unless you’re Barbara Streisand, I’m going to make you wait for my applause until you’ve earned it!)

If I’m honest, on first impressions I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy Chambers’ performance, but he did manage to win me over in the end.  Although he doesn’t have the strongest singing voice, he dances beautifully and has an effortless charm and charisma which worked perfectly in this role.  He reminded me somewhat of a modern-day Fred Astaire and by the time the final curtain fell I had been thoroughly swept away.

Charlotte Wakefield was an absolute delight as the fiercely independent heroine, Polly Baker.  Her singing voice was as clear as a bell and was showcased beautifully in all of her numbers, but especially in the gorgeous ballads Someone to Watch Over Me and But Not For Me.  In the big dance numbers she was more than a match for Chambers and her performance gave real heart to the whole production.

Bobby’s bad-tempered, catty fiancee, Irene, was played here by Caroline Flack.  Flack clearly enjoyed Irene’s spiteful, viperish one-liners but I’m afraid that’s really the only positive thing I can think to say.  Although I assume a large draw in casting Flack was her success on Strictly Come Dancing, her dancing skills really weren’t showcased in this show and her vocal talents were limited at best. My friend Faith informed me that I was being overly harsh and Flack really wasn’t that bad and I’m happy to admit that theatre is entirely subjective.  Sadly, on this occasion Flack’s performance just didn’t work for me.

OK, so now that I’ve introduced the 3 main stars of the show, allow me to go off on a very ranty tangent.  I understand that theatre producers have to pull in the audiences and that one of the easiest ways to do this is to put a recognised “name” on the poster.  I get it.  I do.  I realise that I am in the minority when I pay to see the performance, not the performer.

HOWEVER, it really made my hackles rise to see the characters in the programme listed, not in order of appearance, importance or alphabet, but in order of celebrity.  In case you don’t know the show, the character of Irene is a relatively minor one, appearing on the stage for probably less than half an hour in total.  There is absolutely no reasonable argument for her to be credited above the actress playing Polly and to be honest, I found it quite insulting.  What can I say, it’s a bugbear of mine.

Anyway, back to the show…

Bela Zangler, the mastermind behind the Zangler Follies was played with great flair by Neil Ditt.  His comedic duet with Bobby, “What Causes That” was a definite highlight of the show and was a real joy to watch.

A special mention has to go to Stacey Ghent, who played the role of Patricia, which just so happens to be the role that I played in my school production.  (Yes, I have noticed that we’re both called Stacey and yes, I think that means we share a connection.  Don’t judge me).  I HATED the role of Patricia and found her deeply uncomfortable to play, mainly because I hadn’t yet learnt how to embrace comedy with no fear of being laughed at. I wish I could have seen the role played by Ghent at the time, so I could see exactly how it should be done.  She threw herself in the part and never failed to make me laugh.

The ensemble was basically split into two camps; the follies and the cowboys.  Both groups were equally fabulous – not only could they sing, dance and act but they played their own instruments!!  I’ve seen this done twice before, in Sister Act and Calamity Jane and I have to say it is an upcoming trend that I can get firmly behind.  With the performers also taking the role of orchestra, the music becomes even more integral to the production than before.  Songs like Slap That Bass take on a whole new life when the bass is being played right before your eyes.

Speaking of the music, George and Ira Gershwin’s songs are timeless and you’ll probably recognise far more of them than you realise.  I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me and Nice Work If You Can Get It are just some of the fabulous tunes that will have you tapping along and will be firmly stuck in your head for days.

Nathan M Wright’s choreography was fun and vibrant, especially in the Follie’s numbers.  Although there weren’t quite as many dance numbers as I had expected, the ones that were there were everything you’d expect from a high-kicking, high energy showbiz musical.

The set had been designed to look like the inside of the derelict theatre in Deadrock which I thought was a nice touch.   Effective use of backdrops and moveable crates and furniture helped to keep the set feeling fresh and versatile.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the UK Tour of “Crazy For You”.  There were occasions where it felt less than slick, but obviously these moments will be tightened up as the tour continues.  Whatever happens, you’re bound to leave the theatre with that feel-good feeling and a huge smile on your face.

“Crazy For You” is touring until May 2018 and you can find all the details on their official website.

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