Festival Theatre, Chichester
Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman
Crazy For You is a modern musical created around much older Gershwin classic songs. Ken Ludwig’s 1992 book is framed around musical numbers that were by then already 60 years old and the songs are as great as much as the narrative is corny. Corny maybe - but the Festival Theatre have flown in Susan Stroman to direct and choregraph and the result is platinum-plated popcorn. Never has a Chichester audience been as electrified by a show as they witnessed, quite possibly for the first time in the theatre’s 60-year history, Stroman delivering Broadway to Chichester.
The story is delicious 1930s froth that hops between New York and the tumbledown town of Deadrock, Nevada, focussing on reluctant banker from the city Bobby Child and the improbable love that grows between him and country gal Polly Baker. Along the way (spoiler alert) to a happy ending there are rivalries and mistaken identities, all showcased amongst routines that display shimmering ballgown brilliance in one number and eye-popping bar-room shenanigans in the next. Stroman's creative genius sees her stun the audience not just with the bravado and talent of her company, but with her vision that can turn coils of rope and pickaxes into integral parts of her dancework.
Beowulf Borritt’s sets blazingly take the narrative to criss-cross the North American continent, while Ken Billington’s lighting design takes musical theatre illumination to a new level for the Sussex venue. The ensemble numbers are bathed in a brightness of light that only adds to the magic created by the performers.
Stroman is helped by having one of the finest companies in the land. Charlie Stemp leads as Bobby, the quadruple-threat wunderkind who makes his first return to musical theatre in Chichester since being launched to stardom six years ago in Half a Sixpence. Stemp has powered his way to stardom in both London and New York in those intervening years and the rapturous welcome that the locals showed to him last night defined the town's pride at having unearthed Stemp’s starring genius. His footwork is flawless and when scenes of intricate physical comedy were played out between him and Tom Edden (as impresario Bela Zangler), to witness Stemp and Edden side by side is to see probably two of the most talented physical performers of their generation.
Carly Anderson is Polly Baker. Another faultless musical theatre talent, Anderson is gifted some of the evening’s most poignant solos and her handling of both Someone To Watch Over Me and But Not For Me is sublime. Stroman’s deployment of her company in the large numbers is simply exhilarating, with Slap That Bass and Stiff Upper Lip proving to be choreographed confections of wit and talent in equal measure. Standing ovations in Chichester are rare, yet I Got Rhythm had the audience on their feet cheering as the first act ended. Equally, the spectacle of the show’s Finale was just pure Broadway perfection. Above the stage Alan Williams conducted his 16-piece orchestra immaculately, with Gershwin’s unforgettable melodies wonderfully delivered.
Cameron Mackintosh was in the audience on press night. One can only hope that when his Prince Edward Theatre in the West End becomes available next year, that Crazy For You returns to the theatre where it first played in London. Until then, get to Chichester - musical theatre does not get better than this.
Runs until 4th September
Photo credit: Johan Persson