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Review Round-up: Critics Go Crazy at Regent's Park

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Crazy For You opened earlier this week (8 August, previews from 28 July 2011) at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, the final show in the theatre's season.

Artistic director Timothy Sheader is reunited with the team behind last year's multi-award winning production of Hello, Dolly! - choreographer Stephen Mear and designer Peter McKintosh as well as musical director Gareth Valentine - to stage Ken Ludwig's 1992 Broadway musical, which transferred to the West End's Prince Edward Theatre in March 1993 starring Ruthie Henshall, Kirby Ward and Chris Langham for a run which lasted almost three years.

The Open Air's production, which runs until 10 September 2011, stars Kim Medcalf, David Burt, Sean Palmer, Clare Foster, Harriet Thorpe and Michael McKell.

Set at the time of the Great Depression, the escapist musical follows Bobby Child's attempts to become a show business success, incorporating a Gershwin soundtrack which includes hits such as “I Got Rhythm”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, “Embraceable You” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It”.

Simon Edge

"Timothy Sheader's revival opened at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in the second week of August, with the next stage of the world economic meltdown suddenly overshadowed by riots breaking out all over London … But this beautifully crafted, enchanting piece of escapist frivolity still does what it did in recession-bound London in 1993… it lifts the spirits and takes you away from all that for a while … Sheader has assembled a fine ensemble cast: Sean Palmer as the beaming Bobby; one-time EastEnder Kim Medcalf as his imperious fiancée Irene; Amy Adams-lookalike Clare Foster as Polly, the yee-haw desert girl he falls for; Harriet Thorpe as Bobby's gorgon mother; and the ever-charismatic David Burt as the cock-of-the-walk impresario Bela Zangler. They're backed by a sumptuously clad chorus of leggy blonde Follies… and a something-for-everyone array of numbskull cowboys. Ludwig's script is littered with bitchy backchat and groan-worthy gags… but it's the exuberance of the big numbers… complete with pot-and-pan percussion that puts that crucial spring in your step as you make your way back to the real world."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"'The world is in a mess,' sings one character in Crazy for You, 'with politics and taxes / And people grinding axes / There's no happiness.' Suitably glum words, some might say - and if right now you need a little summery escapism, look no further than this superb and for the most part uplifting musical. With tunes by George Gershwin and lyrics by his brother Ira, it's a ripely entertaining piece. Ken Ludwig's book contains some zippy one-liners, and there's a lovely sense of showmanship throughout. No one embodies this better than Sean Palmer … He seduces the only woman left in town, Polly Baker. Played by Clare Foster, she's a tomboy who morphs into a romantic. The result is a deliberately improbable story of mistaken identity and musical redemption, and Timothy Sheader's production is full of youthful exuberance. The leads are sublime: Palmer is suave but also warm, while Foster almost bursts with charm … Sustaining a high level of poise and energy throughout, the show brims with a sassy joie de vivre that no unseasonal shower can dampen. In the words of the Gershwin classic 'I Got Rhythm', 'Who could ask for anything more?'"

David Benedict

"Timothy Sheader's delightful staging of the Gershwin revamp Crazy for You has everything you could wish for, with the possible exception of a roof … Sheader… has an uncanny knack for matching material to his unique space and this, the first London revival of the 1992 Ken Ludwig/Mike Ockrent confection, is no exception … Winning casting right from Alexis Owen Hobbs' nicely played lamebrain Patsy through to the beautifully relaxed leads gives the show rare charm. The suitably ostritch-like showgirls don't overdo the squealing and the lanky, heavy men actually look like unfit townsfolk, not chorus boys … Mear has ideas of his own too. His take on 'Stiff Upper Lip' becomes a celebration of all things English … In the gloriously extended 'I Got Rhythm', he revolves McKintosh's set to open the stage right out for a vast, advancing kickline that sends the audience's pulse-rate rocketing. And while 'Slap that Bass' repeats Stroman's trick of plucking ropes to mimic double-basses, Mear's vise-like grip on the rhythm, courtesy of Gareth Valentine's tight dance arrangements, builds the number into the production's finest."

Libby Purves
The Times

"It's the sort of night where you sit down tired and grumpy, and three hours later skip happily across the damp grass wondering if there's a party anywhere. Deep? No. Escapism? Ah yes. This is a starlit tunnel to showbiz heaven, born of a squib that the Gershwins wrote in 1930 to raise spirits after the Wall Street crash. Reworked by Ken Ludwig with a better story, it suits the moment … Timothy Sheader's return to directing in his theatre's triumphant season conjures light and joy, wisecracks and whirling feet … Actually, there are so many peaks in Stephen Mear's witty choreography that I couldn't make notes for fear of missing a gag … Even Bobby and Polly (a spirited Clare Foster) have a hard time stealing the show from the cowpokes, not to mention Kim Medcalf's wicked 'Naughty Baby' and Harriet Thorpe doubling an English memsahib with a New York matriarch stumping through Death Valley 'with my girdle on!'. Dancing home after the fairy-lit finale, don't watch Newsnight. Grim life can wait until the morning."

Michael Billington

"Ken Ludwig has rewritten the book of a 1930 Gershwin musical, Girl Crazy, but retained only five of the original 19 numbers and made up the deficit by raiding the George and Ira Gershwin back-catalogue. The result is a buoyant evening, but one that never feels wholly authentic. Ludwig ditched the original book, about a city slicker who creates a dude ranch in Arizona, on the grounds it was unrevivable. He has, however, replaced it with one that is, if anything, even dottier … Even if the show makes little sense, it is put across with tremendous verve in Timothy Sheader's production. Stephen Mear's choreography is more than a match for … the original, and reaches a joyous peak in 'I Got Rhythm' in which the ensemble taps out the tune on tin cans, bath tubs and chamber pots: it also helps that Mear has assembled the best-looking chorus line I've seen on the London stage in a long time. Peter McKintosh's revolving sets and spangly costumes add to the gaiety, and Sean Palmer and Clare Foster as the sparring hero and heroine perform with charm and gusto. It's all very jolly but, if you want proof that Girl Crazy can still work, simply listen to the excellent John Mauceri 1990 recording."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Gloom is banished and spirits soar during this delirious revival of the Gershwin musical Crazy for You … Asked to adapt the George and Ira Gershwin 1930 hit Girl Crazy, Ken Ludwig decided to junk the original book and write his own ... The result is a delight, a production that simultaneously spoofs and celebrates classic Broadway musicals with a score that doesn't contain a single dud tune. The director, Timothy Sheader, that superbly inventive choreographer Stephen Mear and an ebullient company all splendidly deliver the goods … The dancing is superb, with Mear offering several nods to the show's brilliant original choreographer Susan Stroman … The open-air setting means that the tap-dancing doesn't have quite the percussive volume one might wish, but the singing of such superb numbers as 'Someone to Watch Over Me' is terrific … As the spunky heroine, Clare Foster could usefully discover a touch more oomph and star-power, and occasionally turn off her ever-present grin. Sean Palmer has real charm and style … and there is smashing work in supporting roles from Kim Medcalf as his demanding fiancée, David Burt as the impresario he impersonates and Harriet Thorpe, who excels in two sharply drawn cameo roles. She also leads the company in the Gershwins' hilarious celebration of old-fashioned English values, 'Stiff Upper Lip'."

- Caitlin Robertson


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