BAM’s Crazy For You is crazy riotous
Crazy for You was loud, it was raucous, it was silly. A weak book created a lot of the problems with the production, and the gaggy story makes an odd pairing with the sophisticated Gershwin tunes. It’s basically a boy-meets-girl tale, with the Nevada desert and a few cowboys “with latent musical talent”* thrown in.
There are also problems with the acting. Sadly, Conor DeVoe, the leading man, seems badly miscast, and is credible neither as a hero or a lover. He cannot keep in step with his leading lady, the very stage worthy Danielle Altizio. Unfortunately, the whole plot hinges upon his believability.
The first real pairing of the leads is puzzling. Polly Baker (Altizio) has fallen in hate with Bobby Child (DeVoe) at first sight. Up to this point, she has been depicted as a woman of strength and conviction, but in this scene, she allows Bobby to manhandle her. The writers would have us believe that she just melts into his arms after a few minutes, Perhaps the book writer was trying to show that Polly is attracted to Bobby despite herself. This scene was not written convincingly; it was just confusing and off putting.
The star of the show, in every sense, was Altizio. The show is at its best when she and her flawless soprano take the stage. It’s a great relief as well, from the mayhem of the rest of the show.
Another believable and committed actor was Sean Michael McGrory, who played Lank Hawkins, Polly’s would-be swain. He also has one of the best lines: “Who would ever come to Nevada to gamble?”
There were a few good jokes, including an extended reference to the delightful Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland shtick: “Let’s put on a show in the barn!” The ensemble voiced their doubt that the fake impresario (also played by DeVoe) could create a show overnight. His retort: “Don’t you go to the movies? Mickey Rooney does it all the time!”
Again, thanks to Altizio’s magic, “Embraceable You” was perfection, and even generated a little heat between the actors. Lighting designer Eric Johnson gave her a beautifully nostalgic follow spot.
The show found its sea legs a bit after Polly sang the haunting “Someone to Watch Over Me.”There was another nice moment when the showgirls paraded onto the stage with Gershwin and DeSylva’s “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” sassily playing in the background. I was happy to see chorus girls of all shapes and sizes, clearly cast in the name of diversity.
Producing Crazy for you is a big risk for a smaller theater company. Since the premise and the setting are so ridiculous, many other factors have to line up, and it must feature consummate actors who are 100% committed. The acting and stage pictures all have to be perfect. And then there’s the big risk that slapstick, buffoonery and raucousness just happen to be the audience’s cup of tea. On that count, the risk seemed to pay off. Much of the audience appeared to enjoy the production.
It takes a theater ensemble some time to coalesce. Shows that are rough at opening often feel like new and resurrected shows by closing. But on this opening night, something just felt off. For example, during a penultimate dance moment, Bobby lifted Polly with both players’ backs to the audience
If you like a grab bag of bad jokes, uneven performances and, oh, yes — if you like seeing men strumming women like bass fiddles, then you’ll love Crazy For You.
And oh man, can those kids tap.
BAM’s Crazy for You plays through December 16, at the Alcazar Theater, 650 Geary Street, San Francisco. Tickets range from $35 to $65, and are available at https://www.bamsf.org/boxoffice.
*Quote courtesy of Stage Agent website