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Asolo Rep's 'Crazy For You' sweeps the audience off its feet

Director Denis Jones takes a more-is-more approach to this madcap musical.

Sara Esty, Daniel Plimpton and the follies dancers in "Crazy For You."
Sara Esty, Daniel Plimpton and the follies dancers in "Crazy For You."
Image courtesy of Frank Atura
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Asolo Repertory Theatre opened its 65th season on Nov. 18 with the screwball madness of “Crazy for You." Ken Ludwig’s musical comedy (the 1992 Broadway smash) reimagines “Girl Crazy” (the 1930 Broadway smash). Like previous incarnations, the show is a delivery system for George and Ira Gershwin’s tunes. Their songs are timeless; Ludwig’s script is a wild ride — and wildly illogical. So what’s the story?

Back in the 1930s, Bobby Child (Daniel Plimpton), a hyperactive rich kid from New York City, has a serious case of happy feet. Bobby just wants to dance! Bela Zangler (Danny Gardner), a discount Flo Ziegfeld, wants him to dance someplace else. Bobby’s mother (Madeleine Doherty) wants to deposit him in the family business (banking, that is). 

To provide real-world financial experience, Mom sends the lad to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a defunct theater in a mining boomtown gone bust. Upon arrival, Bobby instantly falls in love with Polly Baker (Sara Esty), said theater’s cowgirl proprietor and the town postmistress. 

Instead of putting Polly’s stage in the grave, Bobby plans to resurrect it. You’d think she’d be happy. Nope. Multitudinous complications, misunderstandings, disguises, reversals, fistfights, train rides and high-energy dance numbers ensue. Yet, against all odds, Bobby and Polly finally bring the old theater back to life in this rollicking tale of mistaken identity and strange bedfellows.

Director/choreographer Denis Jones takes a more-is-more approach to this madcap musical. Quite rightly. It’s Ken Ludwig’s dream, not Samuel Beckett’s. Minimalism just won’t cut it. Wretched excess is what works. Jones’ inventive, sexy, Busby Berkeley-style choreography does the job. But he also goes over the top with dialogue and character. 

In one scene, Bobby wrestles between giving his heart to Polly and serving his selfish artistic ambitions. It’s a battle of the mind. Internal, right? Wrong. In this production, Bobby’s mind is up there in lights. A flashing sign alternates between “Bobby” and “Polly.” You might not be a mind-reader, but if you can read signs, you know what Bobby’s thinking.

Jones turns subtext into text with such bits of business. As Ludwig’s script demands, he violates verisimilitude with equal glee. Cowpie-kicking cowboys can instantly dance like pros? A hick from the sticks can slap that bass? S&M love that finds a way — even in Hicksville, Nevada? No prob, Bob. For every plot complication, there’s an equal and opposite solution. Jones dials the Improbability Drive up to 11. He gives the audience a wild ride. 

The multitalented cast does, too. Plimpton’s Bobby walks the line between privileged, self-centered schmuck and happy-go-lucky fella. His character’s a naïf, not an entitled sociopath. You like this guy. 

Daniel Plimpton and the Follies Dancers star in "Crazy For You," which runs through Jan. 4 at the Asolo Rep.
Image courtesy of Frank Atura

Esty’s Polly initially seems like a fugitive from “Annie got her Gun.” She’s a straight-shooter, yes. But we’re talking moral fiber, not firearms. Polly’s incredibly devoted to her hometown. And longs for the glory days when her mother took the stage at the family theater. What’s not to like? 

For another movie reference, Gardner’s Bela initially resembles a bearded bully straight out of “Night at the Opera.” But his character’s not so bad when you get to know him. Heck, he’s likeable too. 

The massive cast of "Crazy For You" also includes an improbable cowboy chorus, a kooky showgirl kick line and two British tourism writers wandering the Old West. You like them all.

While the acting’s first-rate here, it’s a small slice of the dramaturgical pie. This production also serves up a heap of dancing (tap-dancing especially), singing, physical comedy, slapstick, lovey-dovey stuff and fight choreography. Realism, not so much. That’s the one thing they skimp on.  

The dream world on the playwright’s page is reflected on the Asolo Rep stage. You want verisimilitude? Dream on.

Ludwig’s Deadrock is a close cousin to Rock Ridge (as seen in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.”) It’s the Old West of the movies, not the history books. Fittingly, Adam Koch’s set looks like a stage set. It has a stagey, phony-baloney aspect — and it’s a hoot. Eduardo Sicangco’s costumes are period-perfect — and spot-on symbolically. When the Zangler showgirls come to Deadrock? Boy-howdy, their dresses are emblazoned with silhouettes of New York City. 

Jason Lyons’ lighting shines with Roadrunner cartoon brilliance. And that big sound rising up from the orchestra pit? It’s not a recording. There’s an actual orchestra down there. Real-deal human musicians. And they’re good! Really. Under Angela Steiner’s musical direction, they’re damn good.

So good, you could close your eyes and enjoy a concert of Gershwin classics. With tunes like “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” “Embraceable You” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” that’d be swell. But you’d miss the rest of the show, so keep your eyes open.

All the talent adds up to a crowd-pleaser. Ludwig’s crazy story unfolds in an alternate musical theater universe where the laws of mundane causality don’t apply. (Schmigadoon, maybe?) It’s obviously not the real world. But it’s very real on some deep, heartfelt level. The audience felt that reality, judging by their thunderous applause. The Asolo Rep talents earned it.

Ludwig’s lighthearted script demands heavy lifting. “Crazy for You” isn’t just set in the 1930s; it takes the form of a 1930s musical comedy. The musical’s snappy dialogue, storytelling and vaudevillian comic rhythms are all pre-Stephen Sondheim, pre-Andrew Lloyd Webber, pre-post-modern and pre-MTV. For a 21st century troupe, that’s a tightrope to walk. Lean too far to one side, and the show becomes parody. Lean too far the other way, and it’s hackneyed and corny. 

But the Asolo Rep talents pull it off in the first production under the new creative team of producing artistic director Peter Rothstein and managing director Ross Egan. They’re so good, they make it look easy.

Nice work if you can get it.

They got it.



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

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