Reviewed by Bethany Leslie
Whenever someone mentions the names of George and Ira Gershwin, there is a nostalgic connection to the early sounds of America. From George’s classical pieces of “Rhapsody in Blue” to the two of them writing An American In Paris and so many songs, like “I Got Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”, the Gershwins are a staple in music history. In 1992, Ken Ludwig paired up with the Gershwin estate and Mike Ockrent to create a new musical that would echo elements of the previous 1930s Girl Crazy musical. This Tony Award-winning show for best musical became Crazy for You, the show currently playing at the Fenton Village Players.
This romantic comedy centers around Bobby Child (Dante Justice), a want-to-be dancer. Finding it quite hard to impress Bela Zangler (Donovan Leary), the owner of Zangler Follies, Bobby instead leaves New York and his day job when his mother calls him, as heir to the family bank, to foreclose on a failing theatre in Deadrock, Nevada. While there, he meets Polly Baker (Kendall Niestroy), postmistress and the only female in Deadrock, who also happens to be the daughter of the theatre’s owner. What follows next is an entertaining mix of mistaken identities, changes in love interests, humorous puns, the crossing of cultures, and of course, singing and dancing.
Fenton Village Players’ challenged themselves with this extensive musical consisting of twenty-five cast members and an eight-member orchestra. With the limited playing space, director Mary Collins and her production team came up with creative and unique ways to communicate the story. These included project location titles and the use of curtains and furniture set changes. They also worked to have the orchestra piped into the sound system since there was no room for the musicians themselves. At first, this canned-like balance, especially of extreme high and low tones, was hard on the ears. However, as the production went on, the sound quality improved, and we came to realize just how good the orchestra was!
A highlight of this particular production was the ensemble. From the choice to have an inclusive cast to the wonderful energy each showgirl and cowboy gave, it was a delight to see how this group worked together as a whole.
On the flip side of this was Choreographer Karen Whittaker’s choice to repeat elements of Susan Stroman’s Tony award-winning moves. Though, for particular moments, it is understandable and hard to stray away from the iconic steps such as basses made from strings and showgirls. But most of the time, the original choreography elements did not work for this production. Chalk it up to the small stage or various dancing levels, but the preference would have been to see Whittaker create a brand new take on all the pieces not just a few.
Moving on to Justice and Niestroy, it was their singing that was the strongest. At times, Niestroy’s voice had the tonality of the original Broadway Polly, Jodi Benson. Though not strong dancers, they found some beautiful acting chemistry together, notably during “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” However, it was scene-stealers Sam Di Vita as Lottie Child, and Leary as Bela Zangler that stood out among the named characters. One just cannot help smiling, and laughing with Zangler in the song “What Causes That?”
For a community playhouse to tackle this size of a show, the audience responded well with a standing ovation. Audience members walked out happy to have had this walk down musical memory lane while also enjoying a new storyline. Many of them left with a song in their heart and a skip in their stride or at least an appreciation for all the hard work.
Crazy for You continues at Fenton Village Players,14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, 48430 through July 28th. For more information or to purchase tickets call 810-750-7700 or go online to www.fentontheatre.org .