Here is the fool-proof recipe for “Crazy for You,” the fun-filled musical that opened Thursday night in an irresistibly delicious, dance-infused production at Oakbrook’s Drury Lane Theatre:
First, choose some of the greatest entries in the incomparable songbook of George and Ira Gershwin — drawing primarily on their Depression-era romp “Girl Crazy” but also going further afield.
Next, add the snap, crackle and pop wordplay of Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “The Game’s Afoot”), who created the book for this hit 1992 Broadway “reinvention” of that Depression-era gem and maintained its winning 1930s sensibility.
Then, stir vigorously, adding generous helpings of maniacally difficult dance routines and physical humor — all the work of “master chef” Matt Crowle, a director-choreographer with long experience as a blithely gifted song-and-dance man.
Glaze it with the ever-flawless musical direction of Roberta Duchak, as well as an orchestra (under the rousing direction of Shawn Stengel) that does full justice to the jazzy, lyrical, fabulously rhythm-shifting Gershwin beat.
Add a cast of more than two dozen topnotch musical theater performers, led by Clyde Alves (a Canadian performer with many Broadway credits and a Fred Astaire Award to boot), who just happens to be co-starring with his wife, the easily appealing Robyn Hurder.
And spice things up with zesty turns by such Chicago veterans as Larry Adams, Rod Thomas, Erica Stephan, Erica Evans, Roger Mueller, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Harter Clingman.
‘CRAZY FOR YOU’
When: Through Jan. 8, 2017
Where: Drury Lane Theatre,
100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Tickets: $45 – $60
Info: (630) 530-0111
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
So what is “Crazy for You” all about? As if any true musical comedy needs to be about anything other than the sheer joy of speaking through songs, watching chorus lines of tap dancers move through their elaborate paces and cracking wise from time to time.
It’s about the romance of show business and showbiz romances. It’s about the difference in mentality between money-motored New York and a down-on-its-luck, dried-up mining town aptly named Deadrock, Nevada. And it’s about the life-giving properties of theater.
It all begins on the stage of Zangler’s Broadway Theatre, a Follies-like operation where Bobby Child (Alves), a trust-fund fellow who dreams of a life on the stage, tries to attract the attention of impresario Bela Zanger (Larry Adams) with a flashy tap number. At the same time, he must fend off his domineering mother Lottie (Janet Ulrich Brooks), and his demanding fiance of five years Irene Roth (Erica Stephan).
Zangler, a married man far more interested in flirting with his leggy dance captain Tess (Erica Evans, who should play Lucille Ball some day), is unimpressed. So Bobby escapes his mother and girlfriend by reluctantly agreeing to head out to Deadrock to serve Everett Baker (Mueller) — the owner of the once-grand theater that was a centerpiece of the town — with foreclosure papers held by his family’s bank.
Of course, he immediately falls in love with the owner’s independent-minded daughter Polly (Hurder), the only woman in a town full of eccentric cowboys. Never mind that Lank Hawkins (the drolly macho Thomas), owner of the local hotel-saloon, is hellbent on marrying her despite her lack of interest in him.
Although Polly is initially charmed by Child and his “let’s put on a show and save the theater and the town” plan, when she discovers his true identity (and why he came to Deadrock), she’s furious. So he disguises himself as Zengler (a terrific flip) and makes a second entrance. All goes well until the real Zengler shows up.
There is more, but you get the idea. And it’s all played out in one fabulous number after another (starting with “K-ra-zy for You” and “I Can’t Be Bothered Now” and moving on to “Embraceable You,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and a knockout version of “I Got Rhythm”), with Alves, a fabulously elastic dancer, tapping up a storm, sliding down a stairway in a two-way split and sharing a hilarious mirror image sequence with the lush-voiced Adams, who also is in top form.
Meanwhile, Hurder delivers plaintive renditions of “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not for Me,” and Stephan does a sexy turn with “Naughty Baby.”
Crowle, taking a note from Susan Stroman (the choreographer who forged her Broadway career with this show), has a male trio — Clingman, Justin Brill and William Carlos Angulo — display their dead-end lives in the laugh-inducing “Bidin’ My Time” and later cleverly turns the visiting Zengler chorus girls into acoustic basses the men can “pluck” in “Slap That Bass.”
Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s elaborate two-story set (lit by Heather Gilbert) slides in on a track and captures the essence of the Old West. And Caitlin McLeod’s captures 1930s style to perfection.
But more than anything, “Crazy for You” is a reminder of the timeless genius of the Gershwins and just the latest proof that the Chicago area musical theater scene has never been hotter.