Crazy for You, the 1992 homage to the Gershwin brothers' 1930 musical Girl Crazy, is rockin' the rafters at Theatre By the Sea (through July 11). Building inspectors are going to have to check out the Matunuck summer barn theater for damage after every show, if the opening night musical mayhem is going to continue.
The hoofing is an energizing, organized stampede, with Barbara Hartwig re-creating Susan Stroman's original choreography. Music and lyrics — oh, that music and those lyrics, with a live band — are by George and Ira Gershwin, with book by Ken Ludwig. Theatre by the Sea artistic producer Aimee Turner directed.
If that weren't uplifting enough, this production manages to capture one of the guiding mythic elements of the Depression-era musical: the naïve, unknown singer who goes out and knocks the socks off the audience. Indeed, on opening night, socks littered the aisles from the performance of Sean Montgomery, the male lead, for both his take-no-prisoners attack with each song and his twinkle-toed tap dancing.
The dancing is so crucial to Crazy for You that this show was never staged in Matunuck by prior management. Dancers are more expensive than actors hired to just shuck and jive. As mentioned here before, now that Theater by the Sea is a nonprofit, more money can go into production values.
That this show is simply an excuse to sing and dance and goof on the silly love story conventions of the 1930s didn't keep the New York Times' Frank Rich from issuing a legendary rave the morning after the opening: "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 last night."
All that with a story that wears its clichés like sequins. Young banker Bobby Child (Montgomery) is sent to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a building that was a former theater. He falls in love with the owner's daughter, Polly Baker (Laurie Hymes), and works to rescue it, of course. It's being used as a post office rather than a theater, which would be a more plausible place to preserve, so that he and she can train a ragtag bunch of cowboys to perform whiz-bang production numbers. All this bootstrap-lifting yes-we-can-itude is so compelling that New York impresario Bela Zangler (Ira Denmark) lets his own theater languish so that he can join in to save the day.
Montgomery distinguishes his performance with a wide-eyed con man's confidence: the antic actor takes us and shakes us in every scene until every notion that he's not really this crazy kid flies out of our heads. As love interest Polly, Hymes has a lot to keep up with, but she supplies plenty of spunky reluctance as the initially mistrustful character.
Some of the actors gild the lily of broad comic style, trying to make silly characters silly (or arrogant, or stupid) rather than just letting them be themselves. The ones who don't stand out, such as Kay Francis as Bobby's aristocratic mother, dripping with furs and disdain; and Denmark as the no-nonsense Zangler Follies producer. Denmark does a deliciously choreographed mirrored-action schtick with Montgomery, as Bobby impersonates Zangler. It goes on for a long time but doesn't overstay its welcome.
The songs are wonderful, from the upbeat "I Got Rhythm," fit for an Act One curtain closer, to the languorous "Bidin' My Time," eased out by the lazy, thumbs-in-belts cowboys. There are characterizing solos, such as Bobby's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and Polly's "But Not For Me." We get "Nice Work If You Can Get It" done as a production number, and the obscure "Slap That Bass" done with the men strumming the women, who are stretching ropes taut between their feet and hands, like contrabasses.
Costume designer Brad Musgrove needs to be singled out for his lavish work, which plunges us into the time period as well as the songs. Those furs mentioned above trim an elaborate cape-coat. In the second half, to pull us back into Manhattan sophistication, a runway's worth of elegant black-and-white fashions sets the stage.
Crazy for You is inspired madness, indeed.