(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/20.)
Chichester Festival theatre
Instantly infectious melodies, superb choreography and irresistible comedy are met with astonishing performances in this lovabl show
Centre of attention … Charlie Stemp stars as Bobby in Crazy for You at Chichester Festival theatre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian
A faithful revival of this 1992 musical could easily seem as dated as its backwater setting in Depression-era America. Based on George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy (1930), it has an added hodgepodge of songs from the Gershwins’ oeuvre, an old-fashioned showgirl aesthetic and a plot abounding in comic stereotypes and pratfalls.
Yet here is a spine-tingling production with instantly infectious melodies, irresistible physical comedy and punning wisecracks (Ken Ludwig’s book zings). The crowning glory is the choreography – a whirligig of tap, ballroom, chorus-line and balletic movement, all effortlessly athletic, which makes this as much a show of dance as song.
The production’s original choreographer, Susan Stroman, also directs and turns what might have been a long show with wooden characters into spectacular entertainment, oiled by astonishing performances from Charlie Stemp as the New York wannabe dancer Bobby and Carly Anderson as tough cookie Polly.
The storyline is straight out of vaudeville: Bobby goes to the tumbleweed Nevadan town of Deadrock (as lively as its name suggests) and falls for Polly, persuading her to resuscitate her family’s derelict theatre for a show that will bring the town back to life. The madcap plan is to lure Broadway producer Bela Zangler to its doors but that goes awry and disguise, double identity and high jinks ensue.
From the first song, Stemp brings an extraordinary physicality and energy, impeccably controlled – he even looks elegant in the gawky comic scenes. Anderson keeps up in their dances together but excels singing solo numbers such as I Got Rhythm. Neither of them, nor any other character, is particularly rounded but they become lovable nevertheless.