Crazy for You starring Charlie Stemp and Carly Anderson – review
Susan Stroman's revival continues its Chichester Festival Theatre run until 4 September
Chichester Festival Theatre's 2016 production of Half a Sixpence featured an incredible breakout performance from the then unknown Charlie Stemp – it was clear from the word go that this young man was something special and would go on to great things. The ensuing years have led to West End stardom and a stint on Broadway, and now upon his return to the Chichester stage, it is clearer than ever that Stemp is fast becoming one of musical theatre's truly great song and dance men of our generation.
Crazy for You premiered on Broadway 30 years ago and is based on the 1930 musical, Girl Crazy. With an adapted book by Ken Ludwig, the Gershwin back catalogue was plundered to add even more recognisable tunes under the direction of the late Mike Ockrent. His choreographer (and partner) at the time was Susan Stroman and it is Stroman that now returns to this new production – this time as both director and choreographer.
The paper thin plot revolves around Bobby, the son of a rich New York banking family being sent to foreclose on a theatre in the backwater town of Deadrock in Nevada – "the armpit of the American West". This is the era of the Great Depression and despite his overbearing Mother's wishes, Bobby submits to his showbiz leanings and tries to save the theatre rather than close it by pretending to be theatre impresario, Bella Zangler. Along the way Bobby falls head over heels for the no-nonsense postal worker, Polly – and a suitable amount of love you - hate you - love you again moments ensue.
Stroman gives Stemp the room to flex his considerable stage skills with his physical comedy at the fore (think Norman Wisdom) whilst never ceasing to dazzle with his dancing (think Fred Astaire), he taps and ballrooms his way around the stage with barely a moment offstage. He is at his most captivating when he is solo and glides his way through a dreamy "Nice Work If You Can Get It" sequence.
Carly Anderson's Polly is a delight and never lets her character's tough exterior prevent her warmth from shining through. Anderson dances with fervour but it is her moments of quiet reflection and stillness that are the most enjoyable such as her "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me".
Tom Edden's Bella Zangler provides some of the most confident comedic moments of the evening. In particular, his shared scene with Stemp – imitating Zangler – mirroring one another's every move is a joy. A raucous and passionate scene between Matthew Craig's Lank and Merryl Ansah's Irene is also a highlight. Gay Soper's imperious Lottie Child is an all too brief but wonderfully enjoyable performance.
The luscious Gershwin score is played deliciously by Alan Williams and his glorious 16-piece orchestra. What a pity that they are tucked away out of sight in Beowulf Boritt's rather underwhelming and pedestrian-looking set design.
Stroman directs well but choreographs brilliantly. Some of the comedy is overworked and could be turned down a notch on this particular stage – Chichester is not a big Broadway house where everything has to be played to the back of the balcony after all. But there is no denying that the big dance numbers are wonderful and, although many are recreations of that 1992 original, they still stand the test of time. The cleverness of dancers as double basses for "Slap That Bass", the romance of "Shall We Dance" and the undiluted pleasure of "I Got Rhythm" played out on bin lids, wash boards and corrugated iron are what make this such a heart-warming and soul-lifting joy of a show.