Crazy for You review – spine-tingling musical is a giddy thrill

<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

A faithful revival of this 1992 musical could easily seem as dated as its backwater setting in Depression-era America. Based on George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy (1930), it has an added hodgepodge of songs from the Gershwins’ oeuvre, an old-fashioned showgirl aesthetic and a plot abounding in comic stereotypes and pratfalls.

Yet here is a spine-tingling production with instantly infectious melodies, irresistible physical comedy and punning wisecracks (Ken Ludwig’s book zings). The crowning glory is the choreography – a whirligig of tap, ballroom, chorus-line and balletic movement, all effortlessly athletic, which makes this as much a show of dance as song.

The production’s original choreographer, Susan Stroman, also directs and turns what might have been a long show with wooden characters into spectacular entertainment, oiled by astonishing performances from Charlie Stemp as the New York wannabe dancer Bobby and Carly Anderson as tough cookie Polly.

The storyline is straight out of vaudeville: Bobby goes to the tumbleweed Nevadan town of Deadrock (as lively as its name suggests) and falls for Polly, persuading her to resuscitate her family’s derelict theatre for a show that will bring the town back to life. The madcap plan is to lure Broadway producer Bela Zangler to its doors but that goes awry and disguise, double identity and high jinks ensue.

From the first song, Stemp brings an extraordinary physicality and energy, impeccably controlled – he even looks elegant in the gawky comic scenes. Anderson keeps up in their dances together but excels singing solo numbers such as I Got Rhythm. Neither of them, nor any other character, is particularly rounded but they become lovable nevertheless.

The ensemble moves as one … Crazy for You at the Chichester Festival theatre.
The ensemble moves as one … Crazy for You at the Chichester Festival theatre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The music bewitches in its own right, with a smooth beauty, sometimes made comic when hammers, saws and kitchen plungers are used as percussion. Women swing like axes in the dances, the ensemble moves as one and there is a hectic joy and style to it all, with one storming number after another.

Some of the comedy is from the Marx Brothers’ playbook. The scene in which Zangler (Tom Edden) and Bobby, disguised as Zangler, sing the drunken What Causes That? while dancing as reflections of each other in a saloon bar is reminiscent of the mirror scene from Duck Soup, and arguably funnier. Another excellent comic number comes with Naughty Baby when Bobby’s self-declared fiancee, Irene (Merryl Ansah), makes a daring pass at a small-town restaurant owner.

Beowulf Boritt’s set is brassy with an old style glamour: silver curtains, dry ice, neon lightbulbs. Ken Billington’s lighting drenches scenes in colours and moods while William Ivey Long’s costumes come with a dazzling burst of sequins, enormous feathered fans giving the show its dreamy silver screen patina.

It is a divine production that leaves us giddy, capturing the stock romance between the central couple but also the soaring romance of theatre, with its stars and sawdust allure. If there is one fluffy summer musical to watch, let this be your guilty pleasure.