Thursday 4 August 2016

Crazy For You - Review

Watermill Theatre, Newbury


Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Paul Hart

Caroline Sheen, Tom Chambers and Company

Crazy For You is a musical drawn up by Ken Ludwig in the 1990's and broadly based on the Gershwins’ Broadway foray Girl Crazy from some 60 years earlier. While the show's narrative may hang on a story that lacks both consequence and credibility, it does comprise some of the 20th century’s finest songs, along with the opportunity for some spectacular dance routines.

The Watermill has cast the show perfectly, with Tom Chambers and Caroline Sheen leading the company. But whilst the theatre may have landed one of musical theatre’s finest male dancers, unfortunately the venue’s flat performing space (there is no raised stage) means that most of Chambers’ fleet-footed brilliance is invisible to anyone in the stalls who’s had the misfortune to be sat behind the front two rows. The tap dances choreographed by Nathan M Wright sound terrific for sure – but in row 7 one barely catches a glimpse. 

The acting is strong throughout, with some fine moments of physical comedy too, but where this production excels in in its treatment of the classic songs. Sheen’s character Polly is given the lion’s share of the Gershwin greats and she delivers them with excellence and flair. Her interpretations of Someone To Watch Over Me, Embraceable You and the heartbreaking But Not For Me are spine-tinglingly good. 

Some of the singing spoils are shared: Lucy Thatcher delivers a wonderfully steamy Naughty Baby as she seduces Jeremy Legat’s (also excellent) hotelier and there’s a delightful ensemble of rednecks offering a very droll interpretation of Bidin’ My Time.

Diego Pitarch’s imaginative designs can’t conceal the fact that the show is a quart being awkwardly squeezed into the Watermill’s pint-pot, though Howard Hudson’s lighting wizardry (with some fabulous use of mirrored follow spots) does a fine job of trying to “big-up” the space. For the most part the actor-muso set up works well even if occasional lapses suggest an Arvide Abernathy's Save A Soul Mission tribute band. No doubt the musical hiccoughs will settle down over the run.

Notwithstanding the production’s flaws, the talent on display here still makes for an evening of fine entertainment - if you can grab a seat in the circle or front stalls, even better. And with Caroline Sheen’s enchanting take on a handful of the American Songbook’s greats, who could ask for anything more?

Runs until 17th September 2016
Photo credit: Richard Davenport

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