'Crazy for You' is all about dancing, from lovers waltzing to chorines kicking

February 16, 1992|By Jennifer Dunning | Jennifer Dunning,New York Times News Service

The first-act curtain has been up a few minutes when a limousine rolls out on the stage of the Shubert Theater on Broadway, where "Crazy for You," the new Gershwin musical, opens on Wednesday.

The car comes to a stop in a glittering nightscape of Times Square, the orchestra swings into "I Can't Be Bothered Now," and Bobby Child, a rich young real estate tycoon who only wants to dance, leaps to the roof for a burst of tapping.

Out from the hood pops a luscious show dancer. Another nine emerge from the back of the limousine and, suddenly, the stage is a vision of fluffy pink chorines, neon lights -- and dance.

For "Crazy for You" is a show about dancing, whether a waltz for two across a desert under a wide-open Western sky or a scene in which miners and chorus girls dance with and on every loose prop in sight: Corrugated tin-sheet roofing gets skidded across, metal trays are tapped on, pickaxes become swings, and just about everything handy serves as a musical instrument, including a tire pump, a washboard and a saw.

The perpetrator of all this romance and mayhem is a soft-spoken former Broadway dancer named Susan Stroman, a small, blond woman with the practical manner of someone used to moving large choruses of Broadway gypsies around a stage, the thoughtfulness of someone in love with her work -- and a desire to turn music into visual imagery in her dances.

Though represented in the last year by three major musical productions in Manhattan, Ms. Stroman is a relative unknown on Broadway.

She staged dance for opera singers in the recent New York City Opera productions of "Don Giovanni" and "A Little Night Music." She put together dance routines for Liza Minnelli and a chorus of 12 women in "Liza -- Stepping Out at Radio City Music Hall," which ended a return engagement at that theater two weeks ago.

And, with the director Scott Ellis, she created "And the World Goes 'Round," an exuberant, dancey cabaret show drawn from the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb and now at the Westside Theater, where it was unanimously praised by critics.

But in many ways, "Crazy for You" is the dream of a lifetime -- a chance to choreograph a lavish Broadway musical and set some of the great songs from Broadway and movie musicals to dance. The new musical, which incorporates 18 Gershwin standards and five rediscovered Gershwin songs, was the idea of Roger Horchow of Horchow Collection catalogue fame, a Gershwin fan who is producing it with Elizabeth Williams, also co-producer of "The Secret Garden."

Mr. Horchow had his heart set on "Girl Crazy," a 1930 Gershwin musical whose hoary book came to seem unproduceable. (Only five songs from it survive in the new "Crazy," including "Embraceable You" and "I Got Rhythm.") Ken Ludwig, the author of "Lend Me a Tenor," was hired to create a new script with mainly different Gershwin songs. Mike Ockrent, the director of "Me and My Girl," was added to the team.

"Crazy for You" is not a spoof of its genre, Ms. Stroman says, but a loving re-creation of a period show and the serious theme of renewal. Will Bobby (played by Harry Groener) be able to save the dusty but grand old theater whose mortgage he has been sent West to foreclose? He gives it a try, impersonating a Hungarian Broadway producer named Zangler to stage a show the likes of which have never been seen in the little mining town of Deadrock, Nev.

Putting together "Crazy for You," Ms. Stroman says, "was about having a passion for something you love -- fighting for the theater." As shetalked, she sat dancer-fashion on the floor of the cozily decorated living room in what she calls her "little country home" on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. "We wanted to direct and choreograph in a more contemporary fashion," she says, "even though the story and music dictated the 1930s."

The quintessential Stroman number in "Crazy for You" is "Shall We Dance?", in which Bobby and Polly (Jodi Benson), the impractical theater owner's spunky daughter, fall in love. Neither knows who the other is. They are at first instinctive combat ants, each playfully kicking the other's feet out from under as the set opens into the desert beyond Dead-rock and they sweep across it in a slightly skittish waltz that grows more and more romantic until, as they draw closer, the dance ends in a final, inevitable, long kiss.

Part of the joy of working on "Crazy for You," Ms. Stroman says, was the ease of achieving grand effects. "I've had the time of my life this year. To be able to say to Robin Wagner, who designed the sets, that I'd love to have a limo that 10 girls can fall out of and a roof to dance on -- and then to have that limousine show up that day!"

Ms. Stroman researched mining towns, traveling to Nevada for a firsthand look. With typical eclecticism, she studied period steps and incorporated them into her dances. But she stuck to her customary way of choreographing.

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