Broadway's new 'Crazy for You' is delirious with dancing

February 20, 1992|By Michael Kuchwara | Michael Kuchwara,AP Drama Critic

NEW YORK -- As the lanky, loose-limbed and love-struck hero sighs just before the final curtain and a clinch with his girl, "Who could ask for anything more?"

Who could, indeed, especially after 2 1/2 hours of "Crazy for You," the "new" Gershwin musical that raised the roof of the Shubert Theatre last night. There hasn't been a musical this relentless in its determination to please audiences since "42nd Street." And for the most part, it succeeds.

For one thing, "Crazy for You" is the most dance-delirious musical on Broadway, a cornucopia of busy choreography by Susan Stroman that leaves no toe untapped or prop unused. For another, it's got 18 songs by George and Ira Gershwin, ranging from the well-known to the unpublished.

Much has been made of the musical's tenuous links to "Girl Crazy," the 1930 Gershwin hit that produced such standards as "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," "But Not for Me" and "Bidin' My Time." Those numbers are all in the show.

But Ms. Stroman, director Mike Ockrent and book writer Ken Ludwig are after other things than just the reworking of an old Gershwin stage musical. "Crazy for You" is more a pastiche of Gershwin film musicals, an homage to celluloid classics such as Astaire and Rogers' "Shall We Dance," Astaire's "Damsel in Distress" and the movie version of "Girl Crazy" that starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

The collaborators have filtered those screen memories through their own particular brand of stage ingenuity.

Mr. Ludwig's goofball story rejiggles the old mistaken identity plot line: girl falls in love with boy disguised as someone else. Jokes appear with surprising regularity -- considering the dire reports from out-of-town on the book -- and most hit the mark.

Wealthy Bobby Child, heir to a banking fortune, is sent to Deadrock, Nev., to foreclose on a decrepit vaudeville theater. Bobby may be made of stocks and bonds, but his heart is in hoofing. He wants to be a dancer in Zangler's Follies.

To save the theater and impress Polly, daughter of the theater's owner, Bobby impersonates Zangler and decides to put on a show. Then the real Hungarian impresario shows up. Can girl love boy for himself and not who he seems to be? And must boy choose between love and career? The answers can only be "yes."

The casting is not as smooth as the production. "My One and Only," the last reconstructed Gershwin musical on Broadway, offered genuine star power -- Tommy Tune, who also doubled and tripled as director and choreographer.

Mr. Ockrent has opted for an ensemble approach. It lessens the impact of some of the solo musical numbers, but not enough to damage the show. Harry Groener, who plays Bobby, is the best dancer in the cast and his breezy, genial good humor compensates for his lack of vocal power. Jodi Benson has more of a problem as Polly. Her acting is mannered and unconvincing, and her voice sounds uncomfortably modern.

But "Crazy for You" is more than professional all the way down the line. It triumphs because of sheer entertainment will power, propelled by those wonderful Gershwin songs and the perpetual motion of Ms. Stroman's choreography.

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