Musical theatre asks the audience to accept that the performers will, at sometimes seemingly random moments in the storyline, break into song. It is a rather unnatural phenomenon and perhaps because of this, the musical is not everyone’s cup of tea. That said, The Production Company is producing shows that are creatively and financially accessible to its Melbourne audiences. Their latest show, Crazy For You, directed by Terence O’Connell, offers a great night out, full of the fun, glitter, dance and catchy songs that make musical comedy so unique and, in this instance, such a refreshing change from the darker works which are so often performed on our stages.
Crazy For You was first performed on Broadway in 1992, a re-make of the classic musical from the 1930’s, Girl Crazy. Despite entertaining an audience of more than 2000 for each performance, this production of Crazy For You offers its audience a type of old-fashioned intimacy and charm. Whilst its story, written by Ken Ludwig, may not be a familiar one, several of its songs are already favourites. Crazy For You, like its predecessor, features the music and lyrics of the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira. By the end of the first Act, the audience had been treated to the lovely Embraceable You, and the catchy I Got Rhythm. The classic They Can’t Take That Away From Me soon follows.
Crazy For You is the story of Bobby (Christopher Parker), an affluent New Yorker with a banking background and dreams of being in show business. Under the instructions of his mother, Bobby travels to the sleepy, middle-of-nowhere Western town of Deadrock Nevada to foreclose the Gaiety Theatre. It is there that he falls in love with the feisty Polly (Natalie O’Donnell), the only female living in the town. Polly’s father also happens to own the Gaiety Theatre and while she has several suitors, such as saloon bar owner Lank (Christopher Horsey), Bobby soon discovers that the only way to win her heart is through saving the very theatre he is there to close down. With the arrival of a few dancing girls from Broadway and the local cowboys learning a thing or two on the dance floor, Deadrock soon becomes a far more interesting place.
Bobby, despite Parker’s impressive display of vocal and dance talent, is a fairly plain character. It is when Bobby becomes Bela Zangler, the wealthy theatre producer (also played by Adam Murphy), that he hints at being more than just a naïve singing and dancing playboy. Interestingly, it is in the role of Zangler that Parker is most believable, and seems at his most comfortable. The scene where the two Zanglers come together is in fact one of the funniest pieces in this show.
Polly on the other hand is intelligent and passionate and although feminine, can outdrink the cowboys at the saloon. As Polly, O’Donnell really lights up the stage. She is pretty and small in stature, speaking in an easy Western twang. On this particular evening her voice could not hide evidence of an illness, but O’Donnell’s performance was so natural and charming that it almost didn’t matter.
The choreography by Alana Scanlan demonstrates a great deal of variety. In its technicality, physicality and timing Scanlan’s work and of course that of the performers, is commendable, especially in consideration of the constraints of The Production Company’s creative process – each work is rehearsed for just two weeks.
In a rather uncommon but perhaps fitting staging choice, the orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, directed and conducted by Peter Casey, occupies a considerable amount of the stage space. The set, by Kathryn Sproul, makes the most of the somewhat small space that remains. A set of wooden stairs to the rear of the stage leading up to a landing provides the performers with a second performance space at the same time as creating the walls of the Gaiety Theatre, the saloon and Zangler’s Broadway Theatre. The props and moveable sets are kept to a minimum and helped by Scott Allan’s lighting, the focus is rightfully on the performances.
Kim Bishop’s costumes highlight the great contrast between the glitz of the visiting New Yorkers and the simplicity of the Nevada locals. The 1930s fashion for the Zangler’s Girls is particularly flattering and the performance costumes for some of their dance numbers inject a considerable amount of welcome sparkle and cheekiness. Unfortunately, the least flattering costume was that of Poor Polly’s ball gown for the final dance. She was no less princess-like because of it but even a girl from Deadrock deserves a gown with a bit of class.
Yes, in this performance there were a couple of wardrobe malfunctions and a few botched lines but this is a show with personality and for anyone who is willing to put on their “let’s just enjoy the show” hat before they enter the theatre, it is sure to provide a most humorous and enjoyable couple of hours. And, for those with a fear of spontaneous outbreaks of song, even these are kept to a minimum.
The Production Company Presents
CRAZY FOR YOU
Directed by Terence O’Connell
Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre, St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Dates: 15 to 19 July
Performances: Evenings Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30 pm with matinees on Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 3 pm.
Prices: $39 to $84 (transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 or www.ticketmaster.com.au