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It’s high time for a Broadway revival of the D.C. born-and-bred musical Crazy for You. I say this not only because Signature Theatre’s current production of this toe-tapper is absolutely fantastic. (But seriously, it is.) Or because a Los Angeles theater is attempting to relaunch the musical. Or because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom starred in a New York concert production of Crazy for You last winter.
No, the big reason this show should be front and center right now is because we need great productions of musicals where strong female leads tell men to go to hell.
More specifically, they tell married philanderers to go see their wives, order would-be suitors to do the laundry, and scream when chorus boys messing around in rehearsal try to grope them.
“Not my chest!” one of the Follies girls howls, as four cowboys reach for her bosom. She’s been teaching them choreography for a Western musical revue—“Hands on knees, hands on hips, hands on chests,” etc.—but doesn’t put up with any funny business when the guys misinterpret that last directive.
(If a certain United States senator had been hollered at in a similar manner—or behaved better at a USO skit rehearsal—he could have avoided quite a mess.)
For better or worse, director Matthew Gardiner’s production of this 1992 Tony-winner, adapted from a 1930 musical, completely resonates in 2017. Crazy for You features songs by George and Ira Gershwin (including some from the musical Girl Crazy) and a book by D.C. playwright Ken Ludwig, who tweaked the script for this production. The plot follows 1930s banking heir Bobby Child (Danny Gardner) from glittering Manhattan to gritty Deadrock, Nevada, a mining town that’s turned to the arts to solve its post-industrial woes. (Both are well depicted in Paul Tate DePoo III’s whimsical set.) But poor Bobby aspires to be on Broadway, not Wall Street. When his mother (Sherri L. Edelen) offers him a chance to foreclose on a Nevada theater, he takes it, and with it comes his chance to be a fleet-footed star.
If that plot sounds sweetly old-timey, it is. Your grandparents would recognize hits like “I Got Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “Embraceable You.” But what sets Crazy for You apart from most musicals of Gene Kelly vintage is the wit of Ludwig’s book and three female leads—in show business, no less—who are empowered with some persistent pluck.
Ashley Spencer, Maria Rizzo, and Natascia Diaz can all tap dance and classily kick ass. When a Follies impresario (Bobby Smith) asks his dance captain Tess (Rizzo) to dinner, she smirks and responds with, “And how is Mrs. Zangler these days?”
Bobby the tap-dancing banker ends up summoning Tess and the girls to Nevada, in hopes that he can resurrect Deadrock’s theater rather than foreclosing on it. The potential star for the show-within-a-show is Polly Baker (Spencer), the postmaster’s nubile, whiskey-swilling daughter. She and Bobby hit it off while hoofing their way through “Things Are Looking Up.” Then Polly finds out Bobby is the guy from the Big Bad Bank, and throws sarsaparilla in his face.
By this point late in Act I, any audience member who has also seen The Pajama Game at Arena Stage this holiday season has got to be thinking, “It is so nice to see a woman in a period musical draw the line.”
In a stroke of ridiculously bad timing, Arena Stage picked 2017 to revive a musical about men who exclusively date secretaries and seamstresses at a 1950s garment factory. It took the full-throated chemistry of Kelli O’Hara and Harry Connick Jr. to get the musical briefly back on Broadway in 2006. Sadly, Arena’s production doesn’t generate much steam heat, which makes the high-energy footwork and self-assured sassiness of Crazy for You even more appealing.
Way back in 1991, Susan Stroman choreographed the musical’s pre-Broadway tryout at D.C.’s National Theatre. She was slated to direct a New York-bound production at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre, but that production has been mysteriously postponed. Should the producers reconsider, Gardiner’s production does indeed have rhythm, and is raring to go in Arlington, Deadrock, or the Great White Way beyond.
4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. $40–$113. (703) 820-9771. sigtheatre.org.