Crazy For You: Song and Dance Delivered With Enthusiasm By Talented Young Actors

The set-up:

Crazy For You is an 1992 musical; comedy version of B'way's 1930 Girl Crazy, with a revised book by the prolific award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig, and with the music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin intact. Some songs were dropped, while Gershwin classics from other shows were added, such as Someone to Watch Over Me from B'way's 1928 Oh, Kay! and Slap That Bass from the 1937 film Shall We Dance. The borrowed songs are smoothly integrated into plot developments.

The execution:

This production is so wonderful that it's hard to know where to begin to describe it, but I will start with the young and talented leads. Richard Gomez as Bobby Child seems born to be a song-and-dance man, captures perfectly the boulevard insouciance and the fresh-faced bravado demanded for many roles, and appears to be enjoying himself as much as the audience enjoys him. Kathleen Baker as Polly Baker, in the role that made Ethel Merman a star, has the exquisite beauty of a painting by the Italian master Rafael, and conveys a virginal appeal that is endearing - and both can sell a song.

Bobby is the son of the wealthy banker Lottie Child (LeeAnne Denny) who is first and foremost a controlling mother. Her mortgage on a theater in Deadrock, Nevada, which is in default, propels Bobby to visit the no-longer-prosperous mining town. Here Bobby meets Polly, the theater owner, falls instantly in love, and the plot thickens considerably.

Suffice it to say that Bobby has to impersonate a famous Hungarian theater producer named Zangler, played with admirable finesse by Richard Hahn, compelling Bobby to don wig and fake moustache - so much for fresh-faced appeal. When the duo meet face-to-face, the double-take is hilariously delayed, a triumph of staging.

Dana Stephens, tall and stylish, plays the wealthy Irene Roth, who thinks Bobby will marry her, and Shamus O'Brien plays Lank Hawkins, owner of the saloon adjacent to the theater, and a contender for the hand of Polly. Angela Sweitzer is svelte and enticing as Tess, whom Zangler loves, and David Porras as the bartender Pete has a show-business smile and a brief dancing star-turn with a pick-axe.

The entire production is sumptuous. The set by Michael Tessier converts easily to various locations, and the costumes designed by Mary Balest are clever and rise to brilliance with the feather dance, though Polly is perhaps unnecessarily drab in her Mother Hubbards in Act Two.

The work is fortunately filled with choreography, ably created by Tina Dennison and Dinah Mahlman. Sam Brown directed, assisted by Teri Clark, and their skilled efforts in marshaling 20 talented actors around the stage results in a most-professional and spirited production, allowing the musical genius of George Gershwin and the lyrics of his brother Ira to emerge freshly, a most potent reminder of all they have given to musical theater.

The book by Ken Ludwig relies heavily on coincidences, but it is hardly the first to travel that path, and Ludwig most amusingly weaves various romantic skeins into a pleasant tapestry of pairings-off. The book adroitly sets up the songs, most of which you probably know, if not all. You will surely savor the familiar I Can't Be Bothered Now, Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, They Can't Take that Away from Me, and many more.

The verdict:

This is a must-see production, filled with the enthusiasm of talented youth and replete with the genius of musical mastery, and with two leads who have brilliantly nailed their characterizations. Christmas shopping can wait - this is the last week for this show - don't miss it.

Crazy for You continues through November 25, at the Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Road. For ticketing or information, call 281-685-2374 or contact the theater's website.

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