The production of Crazy for You at the Buell Theatre cranks up a full head of steam--and the rest of us have to run with it.
Fortunately, most of the time the sprint is worth the effort. After all, the music is George Gershwin's and the lyrics are Ira Gershwin's --and "who could ask for anything more" from a musical? The show has splendid, acrobatic tap and trick dancing--with movable furniture, no less--plus the considerable talents of stars Kirby Ward and his real-life wife, Beverly Ward, Fred-and-Gingering their way through terrific songs like "Embraceable You" and "Shall We Dance?"
The problem with the production lies in its banal storyline and its predictable dialogue. New York playboy Bobby has been sent by his domineering mother to foreclose on a theater out in an old mining town in the Nevada desert sometime during the Thirties. Bobby's own aspirations revolve around dancing, so putting on a show to save the old theater owned by the adorable Polly shoves our hero into flights of fancy dancing and elaborate crooning. Since we've already learned about his friendship with several dancers--girls from the famous Zangler Follies--we know he will include them in the extravaganza he has planned.
He sends for the girls, then ropes the small-town yokels into dancing with them. Naturally, these men (and Polly) can all be taught to sing and dance like New York professionals in short order. Meanwhile, Polly learns that Bobby is the man who's supposed to be foreclosing on her theater, and she stalks off. Forced to pose in disguise as the great Broadway producer Bela Zangler, Bobby pulls the extravaganza together, and Polly falls for him as Zangler. But when the big night arrives, the audience doesn't--no one shows up, because the troupe failed to advertise properly.
When Zangler himself comes to town in search of Tess, the dancer he adores, a series of mistaken-identity complications erupt. One of the show's best bits unfolds as Bobby (in Zangler disguise) and Bela Zangler himself do a very long, complicated, drunken song-and-dance routine mirroring almost perfectly each other's movements. The joke is that each thinks he is looking in a mirror. It's an old joke, but done so well it keeps the audience in stitches.
Still, the story is a cliche. Even the stale old jokes about small-town sloth and stupidity rankle--not just because they seem misplaced in a cowtown like Denver, but because they are too familiar and because the humor of condescension requires very little wit. There are no surprises at all--every single complication is telegraphed from a mile away. And none of them are particularly well written or charming.
Everything that redeems the production as entertainment is contained in the raucous song-and-dance routines and in the lovely solos. Bobby's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and Polly's "But Not for Me" are sweetly done. Particularly stunning, though, are the sequences when the entire company performs. "I Got Rhythm," danced on the Main Street of Deadrock, includes a terrific tap dance on corrugated steel and a line dance on large metal pans (the kind used to pan gold). "Stiff Upper Lip" is another company bash filled with tricky dance steps and acrobatic feats.
Kirby Ward is the best news. He has the grace of a Gene Kelly and the comic appeal of a Martin Short--a lethally funny combination of talents. Even some of the dumb jokes work because Ward is so hilarious. He gives Bobby innocence and power, and he's always great fun to watch.
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Beverly Ward's Polly is a fair match. Though she isn't the powerhouse talent her husband is, there's something persistently appealing about her. Sally Boyett as the squeaky-voiced bimbo Patsy is always fun. She reminds you of a great many performances you've seen on the American Movie Classics cable channel, but she invests her own with fresh sweetness and might. The rest of the cast is as polished as Broadway-musical lovers could want.
All the energy it requires just to watch a show like Crazy for You, to say nothing of the energy required to perform it, is exhausting. As a member of the audience, you're practically required to enjoy all that vigor--the cast is working so hard, it would be ungracious not to reward them with your own vigorous response. But in this case, you'll have to be a major fan of musicals--or at least of Gershwin--to find the price of admission (up to $48) worthwhile.
Crazy For You, through September 11 at the Buell Theatre in the Plex, 14th and Curtis, 893-4100.