Crazy for Crazy

This one's easy to review: Just go see it. Oh, you want reasons -- and I guess my editor needs a few more words. So here goes.

From our first glimpse of the chorines in their glittery costumes and huge headdresses, we know that the Arvada Center's Crazy for You is going to be ambitious, outrageous, inventive and over the top, and it doesn't disappoint. The musical is a 1990s revival of a '30s show, Girl Crazy, with an entirely new book, by Ken Ludwig, and some extra Gershwin songs thrown in. The plot is whisper-thin and involves the following elements: a rich boy who wants to dance but instead is sent by his banker mother to foreclose on a rickety old burlesque house in Deadrock, Nevada; the young man's overbearing fiancée; legendary impresario Bela Zangler; a spot of impersonation and identity confusion; a bunch of comic cowpokes; the burlesque-house owner's beautiful daughter; and everyone's decision to muster all available resources and put on a show. But the tale's telling is clever and self-mocking, and the dialogue is often hilarious. Above all, there's the magnificent marriage of Gershwin songs with Susan Stroman's choreography. Although she's almost universally lauded, I didn't particularly like the dances Stroman created for Contact or for Ethan Stiefel in the movie Centerstage. But in Crazy for You, the dancing is inspired, providing all the customary joys of synchronized kicking and tapping, and all kinds of bright, sophisticated and wittily unexpected moves. In the eight-minute-long first-act finale, set to "I've Got Rhythm," everything and anything becomes a musical instrument, from miners' helmets to pizza pans, a plunger and the cast members' bodies. The number builds and builds, piling riches on riches until you're breathless and overwhelmed but still wanting it never to end. According to director Tim Bair's notes, local choreographer Tony Rintala "faithfully re-created" Stroman's work, and Rintala should get a lot of credit for this. I can't imagine how many hours of rehearsal it took to form an ensemble that works this well together. Add to this the delight of being introduced to such relatively unknown songs as "Naughty Baby," melting anew to the wistful strains of "But Not for Me" and hearing old standards like "Nice Work If You Can Get It" reconceptualized. The singing ranges from very pleasant to superb, and, no matter how hard you look, you won't find any weak dancers carefully positioned near the back.

The costumes are elegant, and though there were a few technical hitches on the first night (including a couple of problems with mikes that caused the actors' voices to die away when they turned their heads), scenic adaptor Gail P. Luna makes ingenious use of the outdoor amphitheater's large and not exactly ideal stage.

Perhaps Ron Gibbs is a little worldly and mature for the role of starry-eyed Bobby Child, but he's an expert, seasoned performer with a good voice and reasonable dance skills, and he knows how to hold the stage. Gayle Holsman is a charming Polly -- just the right combination of tough cowgirl and innocent -- as well as a good tapper and lovely singer. The rest of the cast is a pleasure, as well. Some play smaller roles, then reveal star quality when they step forward for big numbers. Penny Dwyer is transformed from Bobby's irritating fiancée into a leggy vamp for "Naughty Baby." Rick Hilsabeth, working with Gibbs, reveals a rare talent for mime in "What Causes That?" Mark Rubald as Eugene Fodor (a little dig at the famous guidebooks here) makes a fine Englishman, balanced between dignity and ridiculousness. His counterpart, Elizabeth Palmer as Patricia Fodor, has a less sure grip on the accent but comes up with some mean tapping. William Hahn makes a strong Lank and Heidi Morrow Hahn a svelte Tess. Parental figures are often throwaway roles in musicals, but Susie Leiser plays Bobby's mother and Charles Hudson Polly's dad with authority and aplomb. All the members of the chorus are impressively synchronized when dancing, but as actors every one of them is highly individual. It's fun to watch their faces as they observe the unwinding of the main plot: Their expressiveness brings the entire stage to life. I particularly liked Paul Kern as the big Moose, and the acrobatic death scene by fight choreographer Rob Reynolds, but there were strengths everywhere.

Crazy for You is an anthem to the true spirit of the American musical -- dizzy, light and sweet. Did I say go see it? What are you waiting for?

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman