CRAZY FOR YOU
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 8th May, 2018
The songs of George and Ira Gershwin provide the music in this musical comedy – and there are some timeless classics here: Someone To Watch Over Me, They Can’t Take That Away From Me to name but two. There are also a few lesser known ditties and, hearing them tonight, you can see why. But the super-talented company do their best with these bland numbers – the cast play instruments live on stage, without sheet music, and play flawlessly. It seems in musical theatre, being a triple threat is no longer sufficient. As well as singing, dancing and acting, you now have to be a musical virtuoso!
The plot is sheer musical comedy froth. Chap is sent West to foreclose on a theatre but decides to save the building by putting on a show because, wouldn’t you know it, he happens to fall for the daughter of the theatre owner and, because nothing is straightforward, has to adopt disguise and subterfuge in order to secure the girl’s affections… You can tell where it’s going but Ken Ludwig’s lively script with some zinging one-liners keeps the laughs coming.
Claire Sweeney is every curvaceous inch the glamorous vamp, Irene, strutting around, shooting her smart mouth off. It’s a shame we have to wait until well into the second act before she gets a big production number. Kate Milner-Evans matches Irene barb for barb as domineering matriarch Lottie Child, but it is Charlotte Wakefield’s Polly who takes the crown. Her singing voice is sweet, even when she’s belting, and her solos are standout moments: But Not For Me is shiver-inducingly good.
Ned Rudkins-Stowe is quietly dashing as nominal baddie of the piece, saloon-owner Lank, and Neil Ditt amuses as Ziegfeld-like impresario Bela Zangler.
Heading the bill is Strictly alumnus Tom Chambers, who is hardly ever off, and hardly seems to stop dancing. His tap skills are impressive, especially when he’s leaping around the set, from balcony to piano, or scaling the proscenium arch without use of a safety net. It’s a star turn, to be sure, but unfortunately I fail to warm to his characterisation. Bobby Child is a child by name and also by nature. He’s a full-on ‘funny guy’ show-off who becomes annoying very quickly, and Chambers plays him to the hilt. What he gains in over-the-top goofiness, he loses in truth and charm. I think he should be less Jerry Lewis and more Bob Hope.
This is light-hearted stuff that needs a light touch. Escapist fluff that, due to the impressive display of talent from the entire cast, does its job, taking us out of ourselves for a couple of hours and allowing us to visit a fantasy world where problems aren’t all that serious and can be overcome with a positive attitude and a spirit of cooperation. There is a fundamental goodness in people, the show reminds us, even if real people don’t spontaneously burst into song.
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