It’s hard enough to resist humming a single Gershwin tune let alone a whole musical full of them.
But Crazy For You, created in 1991 by mining the remarkable song-list of brothers George and Ira Gershwin, is the kind of heavenly overload akin to eating a whole packet of chocolate biscuits on your own.
One of the most inspired, yet strangely obvious creations of modern musical history (with the benefit of hindsight), Crazy For You was an instant hit on Broadway. It ran for 1,622 performances and won three Tony Awards including Best Musical, finally premiering in Australia in 1996.
It’s great to see the Production Company open their 2009 season with this show, and relying almost entirely on an oh-so-eager young cast rather than putting the usual big name favourites in the lead roles.
Featuring many of the Gershwins’ unforgettable 1920s and 30s hits like ‘They Can’t Take Away From Me’, ‘I Got Rhythm’, ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’, the show centres on rich-kid New Yorker Bobby Child (Christopher Parker) who has no interest in money but dreams of dancing in a big show and spends all his spare time hanging around the stage door of Zangler’s Broadway Theatre chatting to the chorus girls.
But his big break really comes after being sent by his mother to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a derelict old theatre in town. There he meets and instantly falls in love with the owner’s daughter, Polly Baker (Natalie O’Donnell) and vows to save the theatre by training the locals to stage their own show.
Parker is faultless as Bobby. He has an easy, natural stage presence and a bright, strong voice that charms instantly, without being over-the-top. He is also a pretty decent tapper and all-around mover, with that shrug-of-the–shoulders whimsy that only comes from the truly dedicated and well-rehearsed.
Natalie O’Donnell is easily his match as Polly, with a spontaneous smile and an instinctive understanding of a Gershwin tune. Her Act One rendition of ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ is sung with the aching simplicity that really allows the song to breathe.
Both Parker and O’Donnell also shine in their version of ‘Embraceable You’, which is gently and deftly caressed rather than over-sung or unnecessarily adorned.
The production features an excellent supporting cast, with Robyn Arthur suitably domineering as Bobby’s mother and Peter Hosking as Polly’s adorable, careworn father.
But as with all good musicals what really works in this show are the oh-so-tight production numbers, showcasing a brilliant male and female ensemble. Featuring fun, inventive choreography by Alana Scanlan and buckets of raw enthusiasm, the cast have ample opportunity to show off their precision tap, impressive high kicks and cart-wheeling antics as well as engage in hilarious mock gunfights and other slapstick inventions.
Well-rehearsed by director Terence O’Connell, the production crackles along from beginning to end, making great use of daggy old one-liners that never fail to generate a laugh, with heaps of spark and almost no dead moments or scenes.
Although there are times when the costumes look a little ‘off-the-rack’ and the sets seem dwarfed and tired in the big State Theatre, these budgetary constraints cannot detract from a tight, enchanting show, and a brilliant young cast that make it appear entirely effortless.