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REVIEW: Sharon Playhouse’s totally charming ‘Crazy for You’ is a gift

For those of us who have observed Sharon Playhouse’s up and downs, it can be said that “Crazy for You” is Sharon Playhouse’s moment: here for good and at the top of its game.

Crazy for You
Book by Ken Ludwig
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Directed by Sarah Combs

Sharon Playhouse’s production of “Crazy for You,” with the marvelous score by George and Ira Gershwin, is a perfect summer theater musical. There, I’ve said it. Surpassing its winning Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” in last year’s first season under new management, Sharon Playhouse has reunited the Porter classic’s leading lady Amanda Lea LaVergne, who wowed us as Reno Sweeney, and its choreographer Justin Boccitto. Now, in “Crazy for You,” LaVergne and Boccitto, as a pair of song-and-dance kids crazy in love, lead a totally charming 26-member cast to gift us on Sharon’s old-fashioned barn stage an irresistibly entertaining homage to old-fashioned romantic musical comedy.

Justin Boccitto as Bobby and Amanda Lea LaVergne as Polly in the Sharon Playhouse production of ‘Crazy for You.’ Photo courtesy Sharon Playhouse

“Crazy for You,” playwright Ken Ludwig’s 1992 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, adapted from George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 “Girl Crazy,” opens with billionaire heir Bobby Child (Justin Boccitto) who’s just gotta sing, gotta dance being rejected for a dance gig by big-time Broadway producer Bela Zangler (yes, Zangler sort of sounds like Ziegfeld). Tired of his theatrical aspirations, Bobby’s aging, rich mother, Lottie, sends him out to near-ghost town Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on an old theater house owned by Polly Baker (Amanda Lea LaVergne) and her elderly dad. Bobby falls instantly in love with Polly, who’s being wooed by Lank, the saloonkeeper. Polly falls for Bobby but rejects him when she discovers what he’s come for. Zangler (Joey Sorge) shows up (don’t ask, it doesn’t matter) and Polly falls for him. In turn, Bobby disguises himself as Zangler, then conspires with Tess, Zangler’s dance director who’s being chased by Zangler. Tess’ Follies Girls show up in Deadrock; that gets the attention of the town’s cowboys. Eventually, Bobby’s rich, Manhattan-sophisticated fiancée, Irene, shows up, as does Lottie. (And wandering in, too, are a pair of tweedy travel guide writers called—you guessed it—the Fodors.)

The plot—part Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland, let’s-put-on-a-show movie, part mistaken-identity farce—sorts itself out (surprise!) with couplings all around in that perfectly silly, senseless tradition of Depression-era romantic comedies. It’s what we used to call a show. And it doesn’t pretend to be anything but pure fun.

Besides the nearly two dozen delicious Gershwin standards, nearly all of which are instantly recognizable, this “Crazy for You” is powered by amazing choreography, especially in more than half a dozen knockout production numbers. Besides playing Bobby, Boccitto choreographs it all; his forte is tap, which is on exhilarating display in the first act finale of, perhaps, Gershwin’s most popular show tune: “I Got Rhythm.” It proverbially takes the barn roof off. Every tap in this “Crazy for You” is a Boccitto original. He’s adapted some of Susan Stroman’s choreography from the original Broadway production, most notably in “Slap That Bass,” in which rope is cleverly used as strings by the cowpokes to play the female chorus as basses. (Please don’t take gender offense; the number concludes with the gals lassoing the guys). And there’s a deliciously naughty and highly complicated physical routine, “Naughty Baby,” between a lascivious Irene (Addison Garner) and Lank (Ryan Thomas Curley), who gets more action than he bargained for. Most unexpected, though, is Boccitto’s ingenious take on the “mirror” duet of the real Zangler and Bobby as the fake Zangler in the lesser-known Gershwin ditty “What Causes That” that is inspired by a back-to-back dance routine by the Foy brothers and a Lucille Ball/Harpo Marx skit from “I Love Lucy”—simply wonderful.

The cast of the Sharon Playhouse production of ‘Crazy for You.’ Photo courtesy Sharon Playhouse

Casting is uniformly spot-on from leads to ensemble. Amanda Lea LaVergne is about the best in the business at pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein musical comedy. Not only can she dance (can she ever), but her vocal interpretations of love ballads—“Embraceable You” and “But Not for Me”—combine sensitivity and power in rare combination. (Where does she get that big voice out of that 110-pound frame?) She’s perfect with Boccitto and he’s perfect with her, especially in the fall-in-love duet “Shall We Dance.” Joey Sorge as the real Zangler is pitch-perfect with his Eastern European accent. The locals who play the minor characters—Playhouse regulars David Cadwell, Emily Soell (as Lottie), John Champion and Barbara Zucker-Pinchoff (as the travel writers Fodors)—are all fine, but special kudos to Duane Estes—as Polly’s father, Everett; he lends paternal ballast to the mayhem. We can feel his love for Polly; his sentiment is authentic.

The casting nuance is in the ensemble. The women are showgirls, uniformly shapely and leggy; we expect that they can tap up a storm. But the men aren’t shaped like muscled chorus boys; they’re a motley assortment of unshapely body types—some rail-skinny, some rather plumpish. But therein is casting genius. These cowboys, who we never expect can dance, answer the call of the footlights. Out of this male chorus come cartwheels, splits, high kicks and other stunning acts of athletic grace and acrobatics. Oh, yeah—they tap real good, too.

Justin Boccitto as Bobby and Joey Sorge as Bela in the Sharon Playhouse production of ‘Crazy for You.’ Photo courtesy Sharon Playhouse

Sharon Playhouse loyalist Sarah Combs (involved from years at Carvel’s warehouse in Pine Plains) directs most assuredly, letting the dance define the pacing of the show and letting Gershwin’s score shine as it’s supposed to. Orchestrations from the seven-piece band smartly accentuate trumpet and trombone for that old-fashioned Broadway show sound. Managing director Robert Levinstein and artistic director Alan M-J Wager have gone beyond anything they’ve mounted before in eye-popping costumes and impressive scenery. By rough estimate, there are well over a hundred costume changes—everything from cowboy long johns to Follies ostrich plumage. The scenic design is a tad overscaled; additional musical arrangements and downstage action smooth over ambitious scene transitions.

When “Crazy for You” opened on Broadway 27 years ago, Frank Rich, the New York Times drama critic, observed: “When future historians try to find the exact moment at which Broadway finally rose up to grab the musical back from the British, they just may conclude that the revolution began . . . with a riotously entertaining show called ‘Crazy For You’ (that) uncorked the American musical’s classic blend of music, laughter, dancing, sentiment and showmanship with a freshness and confidence rarely seen during the ‘Cats’ decade.”

For those of us who have observed Sharon Playhouse’s up and downs (more than 60 years—1955 was the first year in the Sharon barn), it can be said that “Crazy for You” is Sharon Playhouse’s moment: here for good and at the top of its game at that.

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Crazy for You plays at the Sharon Playhouse, 49 Amenia Road, Sharon, Connecticut, through Sunday, July 7. For tickets and information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar call (860) 364-7469 or go online to sharonplayhouse.org.

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