As the nights begin to draw in, swallowing the last vestiges of summer in their cold and dreary mouths, The Watermill Theatre’s production of Crazy for You is the perfect feel-good antidote to fend off the impending gloom.
Beginning life in 1930 under the slightly different guise of Girl Crazy, the Gershwin Brothers’ light-hearted musical no doubt provided the perfect form of escapism following The Wall Street Crash and The Great Depression. Revamped and renamed to its current title by Ken Ludwig in the 1980s, the universality of themes in this classic romantic comedy has ensured its continued relevance and appeal almost ninety years after its inception.
Crazy for You is a celebration of grand ideals; pursuing your dreams, obtaining freedom and above all, the beauty of love. Paul Hart in his role as director has seemingly decided against any modernisation or elaboration, choosing instead to champion the musical’s old-school Broadway style. The result is a product of the script it follows; a story and collection of characters somewhat lacking in depth, but more than making it up for it in humour and razzmatazz.
With very little establishment of story or characterisation, the show’s opening is a little clunky, yet increasingly picks up tempo throughout, building to a brilliant second act. Diego Pitarch’s vibrant costumes and well-crafted set play a crucial part in transporting the audience; a few simple, yet considered set adjustments smoothly turning saloon to theatre, Nevada to New York. The cast too, work hard to make up for the lack of weight behind their characters by adding an incredible expressiveness to their dancing, which often reveals elements of the story otherwise unmentioned in their speech.
Tom Chambers held no reservations about throwing himself into the lead as the spirited, Bobby Child, commanding the stage with relentless enthusiasm and an eloquent dance style. Chambers suits an eccentric, extravagant role truly thriving when impersonating fellow character, Bela Zangler, and showcasing his expansive skill at physical comedy. He will well-supported by co-star Charlotte Wakefield who successfully navigates the no-nonsense, yet warm-hearted Polly Baker, pairing pragmatism with romanticism and a beautiful voice.
The showmanship and boundless energy of the cast is pitched perfectly to drive this kind of light and fluffy theatre piece, elevated by two key features; the multi-faceted talent of its cast members and the excellence of the humour. A musical concerned first and foremost with its musicality, Crazy for You is an impressive blend of dancing, singing and musicianship, with the majority of the cast providing their own musical accompaniment throughout the performance by playing live instruments on the stage, seamlessly incorporating this into their roles.
In some ways, the lack of character depth plays a big part in the overall humour of the show. More caricature than character, the cast effortlessly embody the accents, expressions and mannerisms of the different nationalities represented to great comedic effect, from the drawling, slightly backward hillbilly, to the archetypal Brit complete with a mug of tea and a stiff upper lip. There is also a large element of highly successful slapstick, eventually descending into complete farce in the finest part of the show, during which the Hungarian impresario, Bela Zangler, and his impersonator perform a witty, yet utterly ludicrous mirror routine.
Whilst Crazy for You may not be the most intellectually stimulating of musicals, it has the charm and unadulterated fun of a show unconcerned with its unbridled sentiment. Unashamedly romantic, it doesn’t shy away from its genre, fully embracing the swooning angst of the infatuated, and thus sweeping the audience up in its wake.