Monday 31 December 2012

Crazy For You

 Upstairs At The Gatehouse, London

Book by Ken Ludwig
Music & lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Directed by John Plews

James Doughty and Jay Rincon
The London Fringe premiere of Crazy For You is another stunning example of the excellence that can be discovered in the capital’s Off West End. A cast of 14 sing and spectacularly dance an impressive tribute to some of the Gershwin brothers’ most recognisable numbers. Arguably the first of the juke-box musical genre, Ken Ludwig’s book, penned in the early 1990’s, was created solely as a vehicle to link these timeless songs from the early 20th century.

The story is of course pure Broadway froth. A young banker whose actual true passion is to sing and dance, is sent to Nevada to foreclose on a remote theatre in a one horse town that has long since seen better days. There he encounters the feisty young girl who runs the theatre (now post office) and a relationship that starts off bristling, inevitably leads to love. Throw in a Broadway director and his dancing girls, the banker’s overbearing mother and domineering New York fiancee together with some singing and dancing cowboys and you start to get the full measure of how outlandish the plot is. With his Lend Me A Tenor, written some years earlier, Ludwig established himself as a talented farceur and this book is as skilfully a crafted comedy.
Jay Rincon leads the cast as Bobby the reluctant banker. His is a tough role, having to depict both comedy and pathos and Rincon rises to the challenge magnificently. His vocal work is pitch perfect, his footwork and tap is breath-taking and if the love aspect may at times be corny, his comedy timing is sublime. What Causes That, a hilarious duet sung by Bobby and Broadway producer Bela Zangler ( a modest role, performed with relish by James Doughty) has echoes of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr, such is the authenticity of this salute to the American Songbook.
Ceili O’Connor plays Polly the Nevada postmistress. Amongst many songs, her character is entrusted with two of the Gershwin brothers’ most poignant numbers, Someone To Watch Over Me and But Not For Me. Perhaps it was the production’s tempo, but these massive songs have a distinct and fragile beauty of their own and a huge degree of expectation surrounds them that in this performance, was not quite reached. Whilst Miss O’Connor is undoubtedly a stunning actress and dancer, these numbers require a level of subtlety and maturity that are amongst the toughest to deliver and the show’s run may well see her growing to take these songs to their full potential.
The locations of New York and Nevada are defined by the two respective ensembles of high-kicking dancing girls and spitting cussing cowboys. Sara Morley, Becky Bassett and Georgie Burdett quite simply ARE New York, with their tottering heels, immaculate coifs and accents as broad as the Hudson River, whilst Ricky Morrell, Simon Ouldred and Tom Pepper perfectly brawl and bluster their way through the desert town and its saloon. The company dance work of these performers is jaw-dropping, their close harmonies divine and under Grant Murphy's precise choreography, what they achieve with dance and acrobatic movement within the confines of the Gatehouse’s compact traverse is exhilarating to watch.

James Wolstenholme entertains as the "almost bad" guy Lank in the desert town, out to woo Polly for himself, whilst as Irene, Bobby’s spurned NY girlfriend, Natalie Lipin is a delight and Tamsin Dowsett as Lottie, the banker’s mother provides another talented comic cameo.
This production reflects the combined skills of a talented creative team. The show’s staging designed by Suzi Lombardelli is economic yet ingenious whilst Oliver-John Ruthven’s six piece band conveys the brassy jazzy sound that was the Gershwins’ Manhattan.
The programme notes that Plews, together with producer wife Katie encountered initial reluctance from the Gershwin Estate to grant a licence for this production. That reluctance is happily proved to be unfounded as the show is an evening of excellence in performance delivered by a talented predominantly young company at the very top of their game. For a ticket price of less than £20, who could ask for anything more?
Runs until 27 January 2013

Photographer - Minyahil Giorgis 

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