So … take a handful of familiar Hollywood musical tropes (the “We’ve got a barn, let’s have a show!” one, plus “He’s in love with a girl who hates him,” “I can dance and I want to be a star,” and several others), deal in a stack of unrelated songs from one of best songwriting duos (George & Ira Gershwin) of America’s golden age, shuffle in a delicious yet unfashionable series of tap dancing numbers, dress it all in glitter and sequins, and what do you have? Crazy for You at Regent’s Park Open Air Theater, which sounds like it should be a giant mess, but in fact, just totally, totally works.
Structurally speaking, the pastiche element of this show, in which various songs from the Gershwin catalogue are used to illustrate the plot, is the worst thing about it. The best musicals have songs that are inseparably woven with story and character so that in listening to them, you are further illuminated about the singer or the themes of the show (or both) or the plot. But while I regretted this missing element, I couldn’t deny the songwriting genius that raised these pop drops far above most modern musicals’ attempts to add their shot to the canon. They were a treat to listen to and they were delivered with winning style.
As for the story, well, it’s about a young New York banker (Sean Palmer) who dreams of being a star on the Great White Way but instead finds himself trying to save a failing theater in Deadrock, Nevada, to win the love of its owner’s daughter, Polly (Clare Foster). I, however, was won over pretty much from the moment Bobby’s mom starts yelling at him over the phone, delivering the unforgettable line, “What’s that noise I hear? It’s not … tap dancing?!?” Yes, it was tap dancing, from Ziegfield folly-esque girls in figure-hugging, tinsel-trimmed dresses, returning minutes later as Busby Berkeley chorines with long blue gloves, fluffy chiffon on their butts, and shoes that were ready to move.
Oh my, the dancing. And the dancing! And the singing! And the entirely historically inaccurate cowboys, and the Maxfield Parrish sky behind the trees, and the number with the bass fiddle, and the one with the teacups, and why were there velvet majorette outfits EVER in Nevada in the summer, but OH the dancing! And then the dialogue was just damned funny and shoot me if the costumes weren’t gorgeous to distraction and the sets amazingly effective. And dancing!
I’m trying so hard to be critical, but I’m failing. In the very last scene, as Polly and Bobby dance their love away to the audience and the final showgirl comes on stage and raises her arms to make a silver circle spread out behind and around her while giant stars played across the stage, by God I got teared up, it was all just so perfect. The evening was sheer, unadultered joy and my jaded little heart was broken by its loveliness. This is gonna be the one show of the year I want to go back and see again and again.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, August 22nd, 2011. Last performance is September 10th.)