By ALAN SMASON
SAN FRANCISCO — Anyone who has ever seen a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney film knows that the ills of the world can be transformed by putting on a show, raising needed revenue and, thus, saving the day. That was the premise behind the 1943 MGM film “Girl Crazy,” which contained quite a number of George and Ira Gershwin musical plums.
In 1992, Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent reacquainted Broadway audiences with the Gershwins’ work from that film and incorporated several other of their well-known pieces into Crazy for You: The New Gershwin Musical. With outstanding choreography by a relatively unknown Susan Stroman, the musical did so well on Broadway that it toured nationally and ended being mounted successfully on London’s West End.
With director and president Matthew McCoy at the helm, Bay Area Musicals chose Crazy for You as its season opener. It is currently running at the Alcazar Theatre, 650 Geary Street in San Francisco, through December 16.
As Bobby Child, Conor DeVoe leads the impressive cast of singers and hoofers while McCoy serves as co-choreographer with Danielle Chelken. A tenor with a lovely lilt in his voice, DeVoe plays the role of a wannabe song and dance man whose family conveniently owns a New York City bank. One of the properties with which he is charged with foreclosing is a theater located in Deadrock, a small town in Nevada.
As a result, he encounters the daughter of the owner, Polly Baker, played by the attractive and talented Danielle Altizio. Of course, there is chemistry between the two, just not at the same time. Possessed with a strong and lovely voice, Altizio is as pleasing to the eye as DeVoe is a handsome and dashing figure.
The book by Ludwig largely follows the convoluted script of the movie and might best be termed campy. While a bit sketchy at times, it does serve the very useful purpose of advancing the characters’ emotional arc through the Gershwins’ amazing repertoire.
While bigger numbers like “Slap That Bass” with the ensemble and chorus and “I Got Rhythm” as the act one finale reveal, much of Crazy for You is about dancing and singing up a storm. The dancers – both male and female – are quite adept at tap and they sing their parts quite pleasingly.
Tony Michaels as theater owner Bela Zangler casts a funny comedic shadow over the production. Early on, it is established that Zangler has a wandering eye for dancer Tess, played by choreographer Chelken, In his pursuit of Polly while in Nevada, Bobby dons a wig, a goatee, mustache and a Hungarian accent in order to assume Zangler’s identity and produce the show that will save the theater. While turned off by Bobby’s youthful brashness, Polly falls hard for the “older sage” theatrical impostor.
One of the endearing Act Two numbers, “What Causes That?” has Michaels and DeVoe in a scene where their hearts have been individually broken and they have a drunken toast with each other, thinking they are seeing their own mirror image.
One of the other sub-plots in the show concerns the two romantic rivals for Bobby and Polly. On the one hand, Bobby is pursued to Nevada by his New York fiancée of five years, Irene Roth (Morgan Peters), while Polly is chased by local hotelier and general store owner Lank Hawkins (Sean McGrory). The two spend so much time chasing the objects of their affection that it’s only a matter of time before they discover each other.
Veteran performers Mary Gibboney and Paul Plain have double roles as Bobby’s rich mother and her manservant Perkins and later as a pair of British siblings who happen upon Deadrock. At a time when disaster seems imminent, they lead the humorous “Stiff Upper Lip” in Act Two, supported by the ensemble.
What Crazy for You does best is to be unpretentious as a vehicle to permit modern audiences a glimpse back at the popular song and dance shows of Broadway’s yesteryear, some of which MGM Studio brilliantly captured on film. It shows that George and Ira Gershwin are as relevant to today’s audiences as they were more than four score years ago.
Music director Joe Gallo does a lot with a small group of live musicians to have the lush music of George Gershwin resound through the Alcazar’s cozy auditorium. The large sound they generate is an amazing achievement for such small numbers.
Scenic designs by Kuo-Hao-Lo are serviceable in the small stage space at the Alcazar. No drops or scrims are utilized, which might have been helpful in moving some of the action along while preparing another setting.
Eric Johnson’s lighting designs are effective as are Anton Hedman’s sound designs, but this is not a show that demands much in technical effects (smog machines do occasionally generate smoke). One goes to see Crazy for You to be entertained in a land where tapping chorines and singing cowboys magically suspend reality and bring about a joy that carries on after leaving the theater.
Crazy for You continues at the Alcazar Theatre, 650 Geary Street in San Francisco, now through December 16, 2018. For Bay Area Musicals season memberships ($99 for three shows) or individual tickets, click here.