Why do we Brits persist in the craziness of open air theatre, given our famously inclement weather? Because of shows like Crazy for You, that’s why.
Yet again Regent’s Park artistic director Timothy Sheader comes up trumps with a crazily enjoyable summer treat, even when a downpour of rain forced the show to stop on the opening night and the stage had to be mopped thoroughly before it could resume. And no wonder – a big tap dance number, choreographed by Stephen Mear with his now characteristic show-stopping elan, was to immediately follow.
Mear, who was a dancer in the 1993 transfer of this 1992 Broadway makeover of the 1930 Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, has borrowed some of the ‘Stromanography’ of original choreographer Susan Stroman from that production. This includes the use of ropes to reproduce double basses and the swinging of chorus girls on pickaxes, but he has also supplied an exhilarating inventiveness of his own. It would take the roof off the theatre if it had one.
There isn’t a happier or more exhilarating sight in London than the massed ranks of tap dancers here, living up to the promise of I Got Rhythm by providing plenty of their own. Nor is there a better, more tuneful score in town than this collection of some of the best Gershwin songs in the repertoire, accompanied by a terrific orchestra under the baton of Gareth Valentine. Who could ask for anything more, indeed?
If Mr Mear’s work is partly borrowed, partly new, so is the show itself, which gloriously offers another riff on the classic backstage musical, as a banker who wants nothing more than to be a dancer is sent to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theatre there but is swept off his feet, in every sense, by the theatre owner’s daughter Polly. As played by handsome Broadway import Sean Palmer and the delightful Clare Foster, they lead a superb company that also includes David Burt in fine, funny form as impresario Bela Zangler.
Ken Ludwig’s book offers an inspired comic platform for them and the songs to bounce off, proving far more successful than the recent West End musical adaptation of his play Lend Me a Tenor. It gives the songs narrative purpose as well as sheer delight (it helps, of course, that the songs are far better, too). I ended up crazy for Crazy for You.