'Crazy for You' improves on a good thing

May 12, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

The producers of "Crazy for You" originally intended to revive the 1930 Gershwin musical, "Girl Crazy." But as is evident from the exuberant production of "Crazy for You" that opened at the Lyric Opera House last night, they ended up with much more.

For starters, this extremely loose "Girl Crazy" adaptation has a delightful new book by Ken Ludwig, who improved on the 1930 story by Guy Bolton and John McGowan by retaining the period flavor while adding a spunky let's-put-on-a-show plot line.

In addition, "Crazy for You" enriches "Girl Crazy's" already rich score by including such other Gershwin standards as "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It," as well as four recently rediscovered songs.

But the most exuberant feature is Susan Stroman's clever choreography. In an early scene set to "I Can't Be Bothered Now," eight glitter-clad chorines come dancing out of a limousine, in a sophisticated take on the old circus act with clowns and a jalopy. In "Slap That Bass," a little rope and a lot of choreographic ingenuity transform the chorus girls into bass fiddles. And in "I Got Rhythm," the cast tap dances on metal prospectors' pans, does percussive slides along a corrugated tin roof, and swings each other around on miners' pickaxes.

As these mining props suggest, Ludwig's script retains the original show's Western motif. His plot focus es on a New York banker named Bobby Child, who is sent to a Nevada mining town to foreclose on a theater. Instead, Bobby falls in love with the owner's daughter, Polly, and, in the best show-must-go-on tradition, he decides to rescue the theater.

Stage-struck Bobby is played by James Brennan, whom Lyric patrons may remember as the lead in "Me and My Girl" a few years back. Brennan's winning manner, lickety-split tap dancing and loose-limbed antics still shine, but he indulges in so much physical shtick, it occasionally detracts from this otherwise well-integrated production.

As Polly, Crista Moore has the right combination of pluck and sweetness to hold her own as both the only woman in Deadrock, Nev., and an engaging romantic heroine.

There are also several strong supporting performances. As Bobby's aggressive but frustrated long-time fiancee, Belle Calaway lives up to the lyrics of "Naughty Baby," proving she is well-matched with the man to whom she directs those lyrics -- Christopher Coucill's nasty Lank Hawkins, the villain of the piece.

Playwright Ludwig's script relies on a similar device to the one he used in his Tony Award-winning comedy, "Lend Me a Tenor." Here again, the plot is built around one character disguising himself as another. But what the heck? It works.

Perhaps the best proof is that once again Ludwig includes a mirror-image scene -- in this case featuring Brennan and the Ziegfeld-like impresario he impersonates, played by Stuart Zagnit. And, it's every bit as hilarious in this context, as directed by Mike Ockrent, who keeps the entire show zipping merrily along.

But there's an additional, thematic reason "Crazy for You" works so well. In "Girl Crazy," the hero saved the day by creating a dude ranch. In "Crazy for You," he revives a theater. In the process, this 1992 Tony Award-winning musical mirrors its own theme -- it's a breath of fresh Gershwin air.

FROM THE HEART

What: "Crazy for You"

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays (audio-described performances at 2 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. May 17; sign-interpreted performances at 8 p.m. May 18 and 2 p.m. May 21); through May 29

Tickets: $22.50-$55

Call: (410) 625-1400; TDD: (410) 625-1407

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