With a flimsy storyline amounting to little more than an evocation of the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland “Let’s put on a show!” films of the ‘30s wrapped around a love story, “Crazy for You” is best appreciated as an episodic stage musical, one in which the parts are definitely greater than the whole. But the combination of some of Broadway’s most enduring songs (written by George and Ira Gershwin), dollops of slapstick (conceived by Ken “Lend Me A Tenor” Ludwig) and some hellacious tap dancing makes “Crazy for You” an audience-pleasing affair.
It certainly is at the Horton Grand Theatre downtown, where San Diego Musical Theatre is opening its 12th season with a rollicking production of “Crazy for You,” directed by Kirsten Chandler with inspired choreography by Jill Gorrie.
“Crazy for You” debuted on Broadway in 1992. Based on the 1930 musical “Girl Crazy” (which introduced Ethel Merman to the stage), it features tunes from that show including “I Got Rhythm,” “But Not For Me” and “Embraceable You,” while incorporating songs from other musicals, among them “Shall We Dance” and “A Damsel in Distress.” The sophistication of many of these numbers can feel at odds with “Crazy for You’s” cowpoke motif, but with its big-as-all-outdoors spirit, everything falls together: romance, showgirls, shootin’ (well, with blanks),
It all happens in lazy Deadrock, Nev. (described by town hotelier Lank Hawkins as “a town full of singing cadavers”) where big city banker Bobby Child (Jeffrey Scott Parsons) is sent by his overbearing mother (Katie Gucik) to foreclose on the burg’s dormant theater. Almost immediately the reluctant Bobby meets the only gal in town, pretty Polly Baker (Tayler Mettra). Can Bobby win Polly’s heart and save Deadrock’s old theater at the same time?
The musical journey to the wow finish is a Gershwins celebration, from the swooning “Embraceable You,” “Shall We Dance”) to the rousing (“Slap That Bass,” the show-stopping “I Got Rhythm”). Superbly juggling singing, dancing and comedy in this show, Parsons croons “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” with easy grace. The sparkling Mettra solos with earnest sweetness on “But Not For Me” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” one of the Gershwins’ most plaintive compositions. (Frank Sinatra’s understated rendition in the 1955 film “Young at Heart” will always be the definitive version.)
David McBean contributes a wacky turn as producer Bela Zangler (who Bobby impersonates and with whom he shares the show’s funniest scene). There are also winning supporting performances from Edward Chamberlain (as Lank) and Kelly Derouin (as the “fiancée” Bobby forsakes). But most of all, SDMT’s “Crazy for You” is a two-plus-hour party of dancing both sumptuous and acrobatic. Everyone gets into the act, whether it’s the showgirls leg-kicking, the Deadrock locals swinging pickaxes in percussive rhythm, or Bobby and Polly moving as elegantly as if in a ballroom.
It might be crazy to suggest that a Gershwin song could ever be upstaged by choreography, but like Bobby and Polly, the two are made for each other in this wholly likable show.
(Review originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune on 2/4/19.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.