Crazy for You clearly has its roots in the vaudeville/variety/music hall style of theatre which dominated popular entertainment at the beginning of the 20th century, before the rise of the cinema. It is based on the 1930 musical Girl Crazy, written by George and Ira Gershwin in the days when Busby Berkeley was just cutting his teeth as a Broadway choreographer, and audiences were attracted to musical theatre for glitz, glamour and a good laugh, rather than in the expectation of a convincing narrative. This 1992 revival follows the same pattern. Today, it feels oddly disjointed, as the unpredictable twists and turns of the plot seem designed solely to incorporate a good gag or a witty song lyric. But what good gags, witty lyrics and timeless songs they are!
This version of the story has Bobby Child, a dance-crazy reluctant New York banker, sent to foreclose on a property in Deadrock, "the armpit of the American West". What does anyone in a Broadway musical do with a struggling business – be it ranch, college, or theatre-cum-post office (1930, 1943 film, 1992 versions)? You guessed it: put on a Broadway-style musical and find true love.
Everything about this production is big, bold, decisive, confident and controlled.
This is the 23rd production of the Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre, organised by the County’s Music Service, and it is a showcase for some of the County’s best youth musical-theatre talent, so the standards are extremely high. The young stage performers are highly accomplished, with clear, strong singing voices. Everything about this production is big, bold, decisive, confident and controlled, from the acting, choreography and colourful costumes to the ingenious set. (The audience particularly enjoyed the wonderful tardis-like shiny car used for mass entrances and exits by a crowd of chorus-girls.)
Like vaudeville and variety, the show is carried along by the abundance of humour in all its varieties. The dramatic change of pace from the mad whirl of New York to the inertia of Deadrock had the audience in stitches, as did the wonderful "mirror" scene between the inebriated Broadway impresario (Luke Allmond) and the drunken hero impersonating him (Doug Broad), both looking like Groucho Marx. There was crazy Marx-style word-play galore ("I haven’t seen so much excitement since my horse foaled", "It must be hard to fold a horse"), lovely background "business", and a hilariously risqué performance of "Naughty Baby" (Hannah Cound). Some of the comic exchanges were a little on the slow side – this didn’t stop the audience from appreciating them, but I hope they might gather pace in some places, after some first night stiffness.
Roseanna Hunt gave a commanding performance as Polly, the postmistress, maintaining her beautiful American voice through song after song, and many of the actors were remarkable for being completely at home in their characters, notably Chris Ventom (Polly’s vague, nostalgic father), Darcy Rak (Tess, the dance director) and Nathan Sames (Custus the cowboy).
The real star of the show is, however, the music. Like the rather haphazard plot, the score is enjoyably disconcerting, full of abrupt transitions – an odd quiet musical interlude suddenly interrupting a big set-piece Broadway musical number, a piece of English country-dance music appearing unexpectedly, the harmonies of A Real American Folk-Song (beautifully sung by Toby Morter, Catriona McMullin and Dexter Brown), or a piece of syncopated clapping. The music was delightful, incorporating a lovely range of percussive instrumentation, and the band played superbly throughout, fully deserving the additional applause a large section of the audience stayed behind to give them: please take a bow, OYMT.