'Crazy' raises spirits with song, dance

December 20, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

Halfway into the first act of "Crazy for You" -- the "new" Gershwin musical playing a pre-Broadway run at Washington's National Theatre -- there's a scene set in a dilapidated theater. "All we have to do to save this place is just put on a show," the hero says in true cornball fashion.

Cornball or not, that dusty theater and its glorious transformation could be a metaphor for the effect "Crazy for You" is likely to have on the current musical-deficient Broadway season: This giddy throwback to boy-meets-girl, wide-eyed optimism looks like just what's needed to resuscitate the grand old American musical comedy.

Coincidentally, it won't be the first time this show, or more accurately, a version of it, has cheered up audiences during troubled economic times. "Crazy for You" is playwright Ken Ludwig's cleverly reworked version of the 1930 Gershwin hit, "Girl Crazy."

Actually, it's not just reworked, it's largely rewritten -- there are even a couple previously unpublished songs. Of course, if you're going to build a show around such solid Gershwin classics as "Embraceable You" and "I Got Rhythm," it helps to have an equally solid book. And Mr. Ludwig, author of "Lend Me a Tenor," knows how to construct a firm -- and hilariously farcical -- foundation.

The new book concerns a stage-struck New York banker who goes to Deadrock, Nev., to foreclose on a theater. Needless to say, he decides to revive the theater instead -- in no small part because he's fallen in love at first sight with the theater owner's daughter. And, true to the comic machinations of "Lend Me a Tenor," Mr. Ludwig tosses in a mistaken-identity subplot concerning a Ziegfeld-like impresario.

The crackerjack cast, under the lickety-split direction of Mike Ockrent, is headed by immensely likable, loose-limbed Harry Groener and Jodi Benson, who's not only starry-eyed, but starry-voiced (if that's possible). The show also features the rousing Broadway debut of the Manhattan Rhythm Kings.

Susan Stroman's inventive choreography has the cast dancing on everything from tin plates to a corrugated metal roof. And Robin Wagner's grandiose sets readily demonstrate where much of the $7.5 million budget was spent.

Shortly before the final curtain -- after the boy gets the girl and the theater has been saved -- a bevy of beauties reprises a line from "I Got Rhythm." With smiles as bright as the spangles on their costumes, they sing: "Who could ask for anything more?" Darn tootin'.

'Crazy for You'

When: Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Through Jan. 13.

Where: National Theatre, Washington.

Tickets: $30-$50.

Call: 1-(800) 233-3123.

****

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