The sparkling new production of the Gershwins’ and Ken Ludwig’s Crazy for You () at Signature Theatre has more than just rhythm. The show’s got two marvelous leads, a lush songbook of Gershwin standards, and a chorus line stocked with former Rockettes kicking through some of the best dancing in any musical in town. Who could ask for anything more?
Well, not to quibble with an otherwise delightful confection, but Ludwig’s book does seem wanting for sharper comedy and richer depth of character. Set in the ‘30s, the story of New York City banking heir Bobby Child (Danny Gardner), who longs to break into show business, serves as the thinnest conveyance to shuffle Bobby and the other characters through a collection of George and Ira-composed tunes.
Of course, they are some sterling jazz and show tunes, assembled from a handful of films and shows, most prominently the Gershwins’ 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy. Included from that nearly forgotten production are classics like “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm,” joined by several gems, from “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” to “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” that originally were introduced on-screen by Fred Astaire.
The great song-and-dance man’s legacy appears to be in safe and deft hands with true triple-threat performer Gardner, who taps up a storm in a tuxedo, and makes a charmingly sunny Bobby.
The reluctant banker, dispatched by his snooty Mother (Sherri L. Edelen) to foreclose on a property in middle-of-nowhere Deadrock, Nevada, would much rather dance and sing onstage in the Zangler Follies. Luckily for him, the Nevada property turns out to be the Gaiety Theater, a failing show palace owned by the quixotic Everett Baker (Harry A. Winter), and maybe the perfect platform for Bobby to start pursuing his showbiz ambitions.
At the Gaiety, Bobby meets formidable opposition, and his love match, in the theater owner’s headstrong daughter, Polly Baker. And it’s in Ashley Spencer’s performance as Polly that this production, directed by Matthew Gardiner, finds its truest-feeling character. Spencer’s mellifluous renditions of Polly’s pivotal ballads “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not for Me” help define the woman’s restless spirit, seeking or suddenly bowled over by love.
She and Gardner are a joy to watch together, and they’re ably supported by Winter, supplying necessary heft as Polly’s loving dad, and the entire exquisite line of Zangler Follies Girls, especially Colleen Hayes, as dimwitted chorine Patsy.
A slight letdown comes with the jumble of misunderstandings and mistaken identities that ensnare Polly and Bobby, along with Bobby’s catty fiancée, Irene (Natascia Diaz), and vaudeville impresario, Bela Zangler (Bobby Smith). This should be the sort of breezy farce that Fred and Ginger (and their directors) made look effortless, but there’s an element of wit or effervescence missing from Ludwig’s romantic-comic entanglements, and from director Gardiner’s broad staging, with some members of the ensemble taking showmanship a leap or two beyond over-the-top.
The production, sumptuously costumed by Tristan Raines, is light on its feet when Gardner, Spencer, and the tapping, tulle-clad chorus beauties are putting over the Gershwin hits. Choreographer Denis Jones’ moves accentuate the best that Gardner, in particular, has to offer, and make fun, inventive use of props. It’s the stretches between songs that don’t trip so lightly.
But when those live horns and winds blow, and Bobby (impersonating Zangler) takes Polly’s hand for a spin through “Embraceable You,” it’s impossible to keep from swooning and smiling.
Crazy for You runs until January 14 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington. Tickets are $40 to $103. Call (703) 820-9771, or visit sigtheatre.org.
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