Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Girl Crazy" at Encores!

I'm always grateful for Encores! and have made an effort to see everything they do from here on out regardless of whether or not I'm really interested in seeing it. Truth be told, while I have always enjoyed the 1992 revisal Crazy for You, I have never been that enamored with its predecessor Girl Crazy. The show opened on Broadway in 1930, and made stars out of both Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers (remember them?). The admittedly politically incorrect script is ripe with exceptionally weak humor, things that were most likely barely passable back when it opened. However, the book emulated many other popular musicals of the era - the script was an excuse to get from one number to the next. When someone got the idea to revive the show, they took a look at the material and realized it wouldn't fly. That's when Ken Ludwig, Mike Ockrent and Susan Stroman came on board and the end result was the 1992 "new" Gershwin show.

So if you're going to present a weak musical that calls for star power to carry it, it's in your best interest to find tried and true musical comedy performers. Across the board, with one notable exception, the cast fell far short in successfully delivering the material. As a result, this production was only particularly interesting as a textbook example of early musical comedy. While the score is known for its standards ("Embraceable You," "But Not For Me," and the energetic "I Got Rhythm"), it's not the Gershwin's best.

Real-life couple and TV stars Chris Diamantopoulous and Becki Newton were the top lining stars (of whom I admittedly had never heard) and weren't quite up to the challenge. Granted Encores allows for five days of rehearsal, and the actors are required to carry scripts, but the lack of chemistry between the two was blatant. He fared better than she; he had a better way with a melody but she was lost at sea in what felt like a community theatre calibre performance. Marc Kudisch made little impression, but perhaps its because his song "Treat Me Rough" is rather awkward. Ana Gasteyer seemed uncomfortable as Frisco Kate, the Merman part, she can sing the hell out of anything but was so mechanical. She mimicked the famed 16 bar note that made Merman a star, but it felt more like a robotic chore than musical expression.

The lone bright spot: Wayne Knight. The former Seinfeld star was the only person onstage who really understood his material and the only one who looked like he was having any real fun. His engaging manner was the only performance that really reached out across the footlights into the audience. His reprise of "But Not For Me" complete with impressions of Rudy Vallee, Jimmy Durante and others brought down the house. Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle, whose Encores! production of Finian's Rainbow has settled in at the St. James Theatre on Broadway, fails to create a cohesive ensemble, and his choreography was surprisingly dull.

However, as is the case with many obscure Encores! entries, the evening belongs to the music. The orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett were given superlative treatment by musical director Rob Fisher. Musically, the real highpoints were the overture (heard on the My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies telecast and soundtrack), entr'acte (which involved a trumpet solo by Fisher) and the swinging exit music. That original orchestra pit had Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa among its players. And on opening night, George Gershwin himself conducted.

Roxie and I couldn't help but follow the loose connections between Girl Crazy and its successor Crazy for You. Character names, songs and a western motif found their way into the later show though it was turned into a tap-happy backstager with some of Susan Stroman's finest musical staging. Added to the mix at the City Center was the delightful Mylinda Hull who was in the PaperMill Playhouse production of Crazy for You, a recreation of the completely Broadway staging and telecast on PBS, who was on board here as a daffy receptionist. The musical comedy has a come a long way, as evidenced by these related libretti. The earlier show is flimsy and thin, while the later show has followed the conventions that have been established through the Golden Age and beyond, with sophistication and propulsion of plot, character and comedy.

Now my question: when will we see a first class revival of Crazy for You?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Crazy For You and want a revival Right. Now.