Crazy For You is one of those musicals (Anything Goes and Girl Crazy are others) that exist only to showcase the Great American Songbook. This show is built around the music of George and Ira Gershwin (helped out by a script by Ken Ludwig). It offers the perfect introduction for young persons to these classic tunes, and it reminds the rest of audiences why they love the songs so much. Putting the tunes into a story also gives us a too-rare reminder that these songs had verses, and that the verses are intelligent and clever.
In this show, Bobby Child (played by Peter Russell) wants to trade Wall Street for Broadway, but first he must foreclose on Polly Baker’s (played by Emily Summerhays) theater in Deadrock, Nevada. She hates him for it, so he pretends to be the Broadway impresario Bela Zangler, Bobby helps Polly put together a show (with the help of the chorus girls and a bunch of cowboys) to save the theater from the clutches of saloon/hotel owner Lank Hawkins (played by Garrett Biesinger).
The show stopper in Crazy is the meeting between the real Bela Zangler (played by Zach West) and Bobby-as-Bela. The two mimic each other over the table like Groucho and Harpo Marx in the mirror scene in Duck Soup. Because there’s no mirror, this scene is often even funnier, because there’s not even a theoretical explanation. Part of the fun is when the mirror images don’t quite match up, though there was more of that there should be. (I saw the show early in the run, and no doubt it will tighten up.) Still, it was well done and very funny. (Bela is a Hungarian name, but no one can do a Hungarian accent, so they make do with German; Florenz Ziegfeld, on whom the character is modeled, had a German father, and that’s close enough.)
The Hopebox is a community theater, and as always with community theater, the cast is a bit uneven. The principals are all double-cast, and the ones I saw were all were satisfactory in their roles, performing the song-and-dance numbers with style and enthusiasm. Above all, this was a cast that was having fun, and the audience had fun, too. Accompanying the music is a script with every old joke that came over on the Mayflower, but some in the audience seemed to be hearing them for the first time, and they laughed loudly enough for everyone to know it. Nothing wrong with that.
Polly’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” and Bobby’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (sung from the aisle among the audience) displayed singers that can make the message of the songs clear and enjoyable. The choreography was stylish and inventive, even if its reach did sometimes exceed the cast’s grasp by a tad. “Slap That Bass” and the First Act Finale (“I Got Rhythm”) were particularly notable.
Which brings us to my only critical comments. Hopebox is a small stage, and it projects out into the audience like an inverted delta. In that setting, scenery is always going to be a problem. Here, the sets looked all right, but mounting them on wheeled blocks that had to snake in and out like a choo-choo heading up a mountain led to traffic jams and waits while the traffic cleared and the points could be re-set.
And then the Finale just reached too far. Crazy for You is about wishing for the moon, but bringing in a huge actual moon for the happy couple to sit on could only work if it could then swing high and away, above a gasping audience. Of course the audience was gasping, because the moon was accompanied by jets of fog, the purpose of which escaped me, unless it was to demonstrate technical versatility. (Call it the Hale Centre Theatre Curse.) Better would have been to figure out some way to get the car on set (I live for that car in this show), instead of leaving it parked in the aisle, only its front end visible (and that murkily).
Note: For those who don’t know about the Hopebox Theatre (as I didn’t), you may be surprised when the playbill uses space normally given over to cast bios to tell you about a cancer victim’s health struggles. That’s because the “Hope” in Hopebox is the hope the theater extends to those battling cancer. All proceeds from the show, along with any contributions from the audience prompted by the show, are dedicated to that campaign. Each production is dedicated to one of these people, and his or her story is told in some detail. It’s a reminder of just how terrible cancer can be. If it’s jarring. . . well, we all need to be jarred by that reminder every so often.
Anyway, don’t be put off by the minor caveats. Crazy for You might not be worth the drive from Provo, but if you’re in Davis County, it’s worth the price. Take the kiddies and get them started on the music that makes America great.
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