Peppy Gershwin musical revival makes critic grin
My wife, a solo pianist-raconteur, is at least 117 percent obsessed with composer George Gershwin.
And his lyricist brother, Ira, as well.
She’s read countless books about them, seen dozens of shows featuring their creations, visited a collection of their musical material at the Library of Congress in D.C., and even compiled her own show featuring their music and backstories.
With that in mind, I knew she’d love the peppy new revival of the Tony Award-winning “Crazy for You” in San Francisco being produced by Bay Area Musicals (BAM).
Which features music and lyrics by George and his bro.
And book by Ken Ludwig, who’d also written “Lend Me a Tenor,” “The Fox on the Fairway,” “Twentieth Century” and about 20 other plays and musicals.
So I got tickets and, sure enough, she moved rhythmically to virtually every melody and trembled with exultation in the Alcazar Theater.
More than once.
I, too, relished it — though I didn’t quiver.
It’s 117 percent featherweight fun despite its romantic storyline being almost as old as the original Adam and Eve tale but with a predictably happy ending.
In this instance, New York wannabe hooferBobby Child (played and tap-danced buoyantly by Conor Devoe) is assigned to foreclose on a decrepit theatre in Deadrock, Nevada. There he meets Polly Baker, the farmer’s daughter (portrayed exuberantly by Danielle Altizio) — oops, I mean the theater-owner’s daughter — and falls in unrequited love.
He, as every theatergoer who’s not a first-timer might suspect, sets out to win her heart and hand (and tangentially rescue the theater, of course) through every means possible — including impersonation.
The large, doesn’t-miss-a-beat cast of 20 is amply and amplifier-supported by a seven-piece band that includes Jon Gallo, a triple threat as musical director, conductor and keyboardist.
Playwright Ludwig semi-stole “Crazy for You” from a 1930 musical, “Girl Crazy,” which starred Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers), before I was born, and an identically named let’s-put-on-a-show 1943 flick that star-listed Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney on movie house marquees when I was six.
Plus bits and pieces from other Gershwin vehicles.
I remember nothing or little of those days, of course, but I expect to fondly remember this high-energy production — and hum its oh-so-hummable tunes, unlike those of most modern musicals — for a long time.
Consider evergreen tunes like “Bidin’ My Time,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Not for Me” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
Or the Act I closer, the showstopper “I Got Rhythm,” in which instruments are concocted out of a hammer, sandpaper block, broom, shovel and the like.
Or a socko earlier production-number, “Slap That Bass,” where ropes and chorinesare cleverly transformed into basses.
Altizio, still a college student at Cal Berkeley, easily wins my best-voice contest, with DeVoe, a New York City dancer-singer-actor, only half a step behind.
Cornball comedy is scattered throughout the production as deliciously omnipresent and tasty as my favorite parmesan cheese on pasta.
Its main providers are Sean McGrory as saloon/hotel owner Lank Hawkins (fully utilizing a face as comically rubbery as Red Skelton’s was); Lucas Brandt, whose dumber-than-a-duck demeanor as “Moose” is played to perfection; and Tony Michaels as producer Bela Zangler, a Florenz Ziegfeld sendup with mock Germanic accent and purposefully horrible wig.
Michaels and DeVoe, in fact, crack up the audience via a campy, over-the-top, double-vision version of one character.
As a critic, I sometimes feel it my duty to find a flaw or two. My problem with “Crazy for You” is, I couldn’t.
Sadly, the theater wasn’t filled the Saturday matinee I went, clearly due to air surrounding the structure being perilously unclear due to horrific smoke from the Camp Fire 150 miles away.
But we who attended were clearly glad we did, even though our protective masks hid our grins upon leaving.
“Crazy for You” will play at the Alcazar Theater (formerly the Eureka), 650 Geary St., San Francisco, through Dec. 16. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $35 to $65. Information: 415-340-2207 or www.bamsf.org.