When Crazy for You debuted on Broadway in 1992, its producers cheekily dubbed it “the new Gershwin musical comedy.” Never mind that George Gershwin, titan of Tin Pan Alley, had been dead for 55 years at that point — or that his brother and lyricist, Ira, shuffled off this mortal coil in 1983. Essentially a reworking of the duo’s 1930 breakthrough show, Girl Crazy, it possessed the kind of panache audiences always hunger for. It went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical.
An ounce of that original charm would go a long way in the production onstage through June 30 at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF). Instead, director Gina Lamparella and choreographer Stephen Casey supply a slick, sterile staging that hits all the technical marks, but lacks a sense of spark and joy.
Of course, time has a way of chipping at our memories, leaving us wondering what we found so delightful in the first place. An element of that phenomenon comes into play here. If a major complaint about Golden Age musical libretti centers on their tissue-thin plots and general incomprehensibility, the rewritten book (by playwright Ken Ludwig, of Lend Me a Tenor fame) adds little depth to a flimsy story. Jokes that were old enough to collect Social Security a quarter-century ago should now be destined for the morgue.
The romance between Bobby Child (Danny Gardner), a New York banker who longs to become a vaudeville star, and Polly Baker (Hayley Podschun), the scrappy belle of a Nevada mining town, feels predictable even before it winds through a series of expected twists and turns. Bobby heads west to foreclose on the theater owned by Polly and her father (Christopher Coucill), only to rope the town into saving it through a benefit performance. In a too self-aware moment, Ludwig acknowledges the familiar fustiness of the “let’s put on a show” narrative device by referencing Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies of the day.
More often, the bare-bones scenario serves mostly to introduce extended dance numbers — another criticism about shows of the past that this production fails to remedy. Casey rarely uses these interludes to advance the story; rather, they tend to stop the show cold. And although Gardner proves a game hoofer, he rarely makes these flights of fancy seem effortless. Overall, he comes across like a solid second banana uncomfortably bumped up to leading-man status.
Podschun’s Polly gets two of the greatest Gershwin ballads — “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not for Me” — but delivers both in a generalized, vocally anachronistic style. You’d think her director would have also told her not to smile so broadly throughout these ostensibly sad songs. She and Gardner radiate very little chemistry when coupled.
Among the principals, Kate Loprest makes a strong impression as Bobby’s demanding fiancée, bringing a boffo voice to the roof-raising “Naughty Baby.” Similarly, chorus member Emma Clinch brings a welcome vivacity (and some period authenticity) to the small role of Tess.
Yet the winning, memorable elements dissolve faster than a drop of water in desert heat. PSF demonstrates that what was once an exciting “new” musical can quickly become old hat.