Tuesday, January 30, 2024

"Crazy for You" at Artistry

Artistry is opening their 2024 with a winner - the 1992 Broadway musical Crazy For You, featuring music by George and Ira Gershwin taken from several early 20th Century musicals, including Girl Crazy. With book by Ken Ludwig (known for his comedic adaptations of classic stories) and music by the Gershwins, you really can't go wrong. Despite being only about 30 years old, it has the feel of an old-fashioned (in a good way) American musical comedy. Director Ben Bakken has staged it as a sort of concert version, with an almost unheard of 20-piece orchestra conducted by recently retired longtime #TCTheater Music Director Anita Ruth, at center stage and the focus of the show. The cast is smaller than the band, with just 12 performers (the Broadway production had more than twice that) playing all of the roles and performing in the small space in front of the orchestra with little in the way of sets and costumes. But while some elements of production are stripped down, the music, singing, dancing, and performing are full out and fabulous! The Sunday matinee on opening weekend was almost sold out, and word is only going to spread about how great this show is, so you would be wise to get your tickets now for the final two weekends.

Our main character, Bobby Child, wants to be in show business, but his mother wants him to take over the boring family business of banking and real estate. He's somehow found himself engaged to a woman he doesn't really love, so when he's rejected by the famous Follies producer Bela Zangler, he agrees to go to a small town called Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a piece of property the family owns. But it just so happens that the property is a theater now being used as a post office, and Bobby falls in love with Polly, the only woman in town and daughter of the theater's owner. He vows to help her save the theater, and invites all of his dancer friends to come out and put on a show, while he impersonates Zangler to make it happen. When no one shows up to see the show, and the real Zangler comes to town, things get dicey. But this is a musical, so everything works out as it should, and really all of this plot is an excuse for the music, dancing, and comedy.

Kyle Weiler and Annika Isbel with the ensemble
(photo by Sam Lavine)
In the staged concert format, the performers remain on stage for most of the show, sitting off to the side watching when not in the scene. They're dressed in basic black (including an array of chic black jumpsuits), donning an accessory or two to play different characters, e.g., cowboy hats and bandanas (costume consultant Britt Hilton). From what I hear, this musical is normally staged as a big full flashy show, but I really love the decision to do it this way. It allows the focus to be on the music, dancing, and performance rather than fancy sets and huge numbers. It also really allows every one of the 12 individual ensemble members to shine in their featured moments, with no one fading into the background chorus. Two of those ensemble members, Elly Stahlke and Kyle Weiler, pulled double duty as choreographers, and have really created a smashing series of dances, the kind that give you chills when the full company joins in. And of course, this gorgeous 20-piece orchestra lives up to the hype, with seven strings (including upright bass player Joan Griffith who also gets to play a fun featured role in the show), six brass, five reeds, a piano, and a percussionist. Watching them play (especially the hard-working reed players who switch between several different instruments) is almost as much fun as listening to the full, lush, rich sound they create as it fills the theater. It's truly a joy to hear these songs that have become part of the American songbook (e.g., "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and "I Got Rhythm") get the full orchestra treatment.

photo by Sam Lavine
In addition to co-choreographing, the up-and-coming Kyle Weiler also plays Bobby Child with such humor, energy, and grace that it's infectious. As his love interest Polly, Annika Isbell is an absolute find. I don't think I've seen her much before, at least not in a lead role like this, and she's so charming and funny, and sings like a dream. The talented cast (who all play multiple roles) also includes Jaclyn McDonald as Bobby's jilted NYC fiancĂ© who follows him to Nevada, France Roberts and Therese Walth proving some comic relief as a couple of travel writers as well as Polly's dad and Bobby's mom, Charlie Clark as the real Zangler (the dueling Zangler number a highlight), Carl Swanson once again with a fantastic comedic supporting turn as the saloon owner (see also The Pajama Game), and Jonah Hale, Marley Ritchie, Cris Sanchez, Dayle Theisen, and co-choreographer Elly Stahlke in multiple roles, each one a specific delight. Under the direction of Ben Bakken, the show moves along with great energy and momentum, not a dull moment to be found.

Crazy for You is a classic American musical comedy, and Artistry's concert staging of it, with a focus on the orchestra and a smaller cast performing their hearts out, succeeds on every level. It's 2+ hours of pure joy, laughter, and awe. This short three-week run will be over quickly, and it sure would be a shame to miss this crazy good show.