It takes a lot of nerve to produce George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy as part of a series of "neglected musical comedies." After all, there are countless recordings of the score, there are at least 3 movie versions, the original script continues to be performed by stock and amateur companies, and of course, there was the recent "Crazy For You," which used the basic plot and most of the score to smashing effect, and ran well over 1000 performances longer than the 1930 original.
And yet, no one can accuse Musicals Tonight! (and by extension its guiding force, the intrepidly charming Mel Miller) of being timid. Their concert production of Girl Crazy, if not the most necessary revival of recent times, was at its best an evening of sweetly familiar nostalgia, well-performed and totally entertaining.
Make no mistake about it: Ockrent and Susan Stroman knew what they were doing when they junked the original Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan book in favor of Ken Ludwig’s rewrite for "Crazy For You." The jokes and situations were old even in 1930; to say nothing of characters that would never pass muster in these more "enlightened" times. But there is that score, jam-packed with delicious Gershwin classics that never lose their ability to thrill. "Embraceable You," "Bidin’ My Time," "But Not For Me," and of course the inimitable "I Got Rhythm" (performed with as much brio as Merman, and with infinitely more sex appeal, by Rachel Hale) are just a few of the evergreens this glorious score introduced. Every time the antiquated book threatened to bog things down with its over-plotted silliness, along came another member of the terrific ensemble to get things shakin’ with another show-stopping song, led by the redoubtable musical director James Stenborg.
Director Thomas Mills did his usual good job, keeping things moving at as brisk a pace as he could, while continuing to have fun with the books-in-hand format of this series with a decidedly "Stromanesque" flair; "I Got Rhythm," especially, rivaled the already legendary "walkers" segment in "The Producers" for tap-dancing ingenuity.
The cast, as mentioned, was a terrific ensemble of gleeful, scene-stealing charmers. Particularly outstanding were the lovable Michael Lluberes as Gieber Goldfarb (there is a Bialystock in his future), the superbly comic Matthew Ellison, who stopped the show cold with his split-second timing, dry delivery, and elegantly loose-limbed physicality as Slick Fothergill, and Rebecca Rich, a big-voiced comedienne to watch out for. As the romantic leads, Perry Laylon Ojeda and Kelli Rabke were delightful; Ojeda suavely self-assured and Rabke a tempestuous spitfire, with voices to match both their characterizations and the songs they were given to sing.
As is the case with concert presentations, the physical production was spare, but time and place were nicely suggested by simple set pieces (designed by Stan Pearlman; graphic design by Perry Pizarro) and a hodgepodge of costumes that shouldn’t have worked but somehow did. (Women’s wardrobe by Keith Benedict, the rest accredited to the TDF Costume Collection.) No one took credit for the lighting, which was less than inventive but at least kept the performers visible throughout with cold, un-gelled brightness.
If Musicals Tonight! started its fourth season with a less than neglected work, the rest of the season is devoted to truly unfamiliar material. And if Girl Crazy was any indication, they are off to a good start.
(Also featuring: Keith Benedict, Kirstie R. Bingham, Courtney Blythe, Liz Casasola, Joseph Franchini, Michael McGuirk, Matthew Morgan, Fabio Monteiro, Liz Pearce, Shelby Rose, Matt Seidman, and Will Woodrow.)
Book: 0 Music: 2 Lyrics: 2
Musical Direction: 2
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita