Dynamite dancing, breathtaking choreography by Susan Stroman and the timeless tunes of George Gershwin are not enough to save this reworking of the 1930 Gershwin musical “Girl Crazy” from superficial story.
Still, the enduring Gershwin appeal should ensure “Crazy” will keep the Shubert busy at least until Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Blvd.” moves in in November.
Story opens as Bobby Child (James Brennan), rich kid and aspiring dancer, is faced with a terrible decision — stay in New York and pursue a dancing career that’s going nowhere or go to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on one of the family properties. Caught between the clutches of his fiancee, the dreaded vamp Irene Roth (Kay McClelland), and his battle-ax mother (Lenka Peterson), he heads immediately for Deadrock.
Sleepy, dusty Deadrock is populated by a band of Wild West varmints that, luckily for Bobby, includes the pretty and spunky Polly Baker (Karen Ziemba), daughter of Everett Baker (Carleton Carpenter), owner of long-dark Gaiety Theater, which now serves as the local post office. It is the Gaiety Theater that Bobby has been sent to repossess.
Within two minutes of his arrival in Deadrock, Bobby has fallen madly in love with Polly, who couldn’t be less interested in him. Before long, Bobby has disguised himself as theater impresario Bela Zangler (Stuart Zagnit) and is putting on a play at the Gaiety while winning Polly’s heart as the suave Zangler.
Even by 1930’s standards, the plot line is contrived. While the creators and producers may have been wise to jettison the original book of “Girl Crazy” as thin and dated, writer Ken Ludwig faced the Herculean task of updating the basic story line and characters while stringing together 18 Gershwin tunes, many of them standards, into some kind of logical sequence.
While Ludwig, along with director Mike Ockrent, tries to spice up the story with lots of physical humor, the basic story is so superficial that there is no emotional anchor to the show. These characters are period cliches, pure and simple. And the reluctance of the creators to plunge into full-fledged farce, rather than merely flirt with it, makes for a hollow, mechanical piece.
The performers also suffer from the weakness of the book. While Karen Ziemba, a gifted and charismatic actress, manages to find some emotional depth in the feisty Polly, the awkward song transitions and clunky dialogue limit her range. James Brennan is full of frenetic energy, but doesn’t really find the focus of his character.
Others in the cast, including Cathy Susan Pyles, Kay McClelland and Lenka Peterson, have nice turns in supporting roles, but the real credit goes to the ensemble of dancers, who fill the stage with inventive movement and graceful enthusiasm.
Set designer Robin Wagner, costume designer William Ivey Long and lighting designer Paul Gallo create a marvelous atmosphere that sets a fun, cartoonish tone for the evening.