Chicago Theatre Review
Tap Your Troubles Away
Crazy for You – Drury Lane Oakbrook
They say that timing is everything and, for this production, nothing could be more accurate. Of course, timing is important for comedy, with which this show is filled to overflowing. Great choreography, one of the hallmarks of this musical, also requires spot-on timing. And timing is also important in deciding when to present a certain play or musical. Well, right now Chicagoland is definitely in dire need of this marvelous musical. The fact that it’s being presented, at long last, in such a superior production is the icing on the cake. It’s time for Chicago, at least for one night, to tap their troubles away.
Originally billed as “The New Gershwin Musical Comedy,” this reworking of George and Ira’s 1930 musical, “Girl Crazy,” re-imagined by playwright Ken Ludwig, directed on Broadway by Mike Ockrent and choreographed by Susan Stroman, took the 1992 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Choreography and Costumes. The show was very popular and played for over 1,600 performances. It not only spawned a PBS Great Performances broadcast, as well as a successful National Tour, but it took London’s West End by storm at a time when theatre on both shores was being dominated by British-born musicals. Curiously, this highly entertaining tuneful treat hasn’t been seen in Chicago for a long time, but this is an especially great time for this captivating show to appear.
Matt Crowle, one of Chicago’s best-loved, most multitalented theatre artists, is at the helm of this production. This recent Jeff Award-winning actor, celebrated for his terrific performance in Mercury Theatre’s “The Producers,” takes charge of a show that plays directly into this gifted young man’s skill set. Not only has Crowle expertly staged and guided this production, with so much love, focus and high octane energy; but this Gershwin song-fest is filled with Crowle’s signature, imaginative dance moves. Mr. Cowle makes this tap dance extravaganza shine brighter than it might have in the hands of a lesser director/choreographer.
The storyline of this delightful musical is slight, but filled with giddy fun and clever twists and turns. Bobby Child is a talented, young Broadway dancer wannabe, who’s pressured by his domineering mother to pursue a career at the family banking business. But when he’s sent to rural Deadrock, Nevada, in order to foreclose on a rundown theatre, he unexpectedly falls in love with Polly Baker, the only girl around and the talented leader of the tiny Western town. Disguised as famous Broadway director Bela Zangler, Bobby devises a musical revue cast with local cowboys and an imported bevy of Broadway beauties. His dream is to raise the money needed to save the old vaudeville house and, by doing so, win the affection of feisty Polly Baker. However, complications arise when the real Bela Zangler unexpectedly arrives in Deadrock, in search of his mistress, Tess. Add to this roster of characters Bobby’s gutsy, New York society girlfriend, Irene, Lank, the intimidating owner of the Deadrock Saloon and Hotel and the Fodors, a pair of English travel writers, in Nevada to include the hotel and theatre in their new guidebook.
Matt Crowle is blessed to have a dream team to bring this production to life. First, and foremost, is his uber-talented cast. They’re led by Broadway power couple Clyde Alves, as Bobby Child, and his lovely wife Robyn Hurder, as Polly Baker. Both of these young performers are true triple-threats: terrific actors, talented singers and gifted dancers, who practically defy gravity with their fancy footwork. Their cumulative resumes include leading roles in many New York and regional musicals. Alves was Ozzie in the recent Broadway production of “On the Town;” Ms. Hurder played Jeannie Muldoon in “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” Sharing such stirring Gershwin numbers as “Can You Use Me,” “Shall We Dance,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the show-stopping Act I finale, “I Got Rhythm,” this talented team makes this musical sing. Because their onstage chemistry is real, the audience never doubts that these two opposites will ultimately attract, and their story will end happily ever after.
Accomplished actor and singer extraordinaire, Larry Adams, displays his comic talent as Bela Zangler. Together with Alves, he provides some of the show’s funniest moments, particularly with their inebriated mirrored duet, “What Causes That?” Lovely Erica Stephan, who starred in TATC’s recent production of “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” is an all-controlling, sassy siren as Irene. Her funniest moment is an S&M version of “Naughty Baby,” sung with the hilarious Rod Thomas as Lank, her willing victim and the reluctant object of her affection. Holly Stauder and Mark David Kaplan make an eccentric brother-and-sister team as Patricia and Eugene Fodor, a pair of English explorers checking out Deadrock for their upcoming American travel guide. They join the entire cast for the rousing “Stiff Upper Lip.”
Other standouts in the company include reliable veteran actor Roger Mueller, as Everett Baker, Polly’s humorously befuddled father, and Janet Ulrich Brooks, who’s simply wonderful as Bobby’s vexing, all-controlling mother, Lottie Child. The resplendent ensemble features some of Chicago’s finest tap-dancing talents, including Erica Evans as Tess, Laura Savage as Patsy, Ashley Lanyon as Mitzi, Harter Clingman, as Moose, Joe Capstick as Cactus, Alexander Aguilar as Billy, William Carlos Angulo as Sam, Justin Brill as Mingo, Anthony Norman as Jimmy, Aaron Umsted as Junior and Doug Pawlik as a banjo-playing Wyatt/Perkins. Other talented singer/dancers include Julie Baird, Rachel Hafell, Kristina Larson, Hannah Rose Nardone and Lucy Zukaitis, with swing performers Courtney Cerny and Ryan Naimy.
Roberta Duchak once again expertly guides this 27-member cast through their musical mission, and Shawn Stengel conducts the eight-member pit orchestra with skill and finesse. Jeffery D. Kmiec’s wonderfully flexible scenic design evokes the rough-and-tumble era of the Old West, warmly illuminated by Heather Gilbert’s lighting design. Caitlin McCleod’s gorgeous, fringed and flashy costumes are complemented by Claire Moores’ stylized wigs and hair designs. And Adrian Aguilar adds comic action to this production with his whimsical fight choreography.
Talented, thoughtful Matt Crowle has directed and choreographed his production with so much sparkling creativity, inventiveness and care. The result is simple perfection. This all-singing, all-dancing old-fashioned musical, filled with so many wonderful, familiar, toe-tapping hits from the Gershwin songbook, is smart, slick, side-splitting and as shiny and polished as a brand new silver dollar. At a time when we really need a laugh, and the chance to lose ourselves in a positive story of spirit and romance, here’s a peerless production guaranteed to tap your troubles away.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 3-January 8 by Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 630-530-0111 or TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or by going to www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.