(4 / 5)
This week I embarked on something new. I went to see one of my mum’s original favourite musicals. Crazy For You is considered to be ‘the last of the Gershwins’ light hearted musicals’ and started life over 80 years ago, first appearing in the 1930s. After a lengthily history, including a name change from Girl Crazy, Crazy For You opened on Broadway in 1992 and has now been revived in the UK for a brand new, star studded tour which started in August 2017 in Plymouth after a run at The Watermill Theatre in July 2016.
My mum originally saw this production with my Grandmother when Ruthie Henshall performed the part of Polly and she was very excited to relive the experience at one of my favourite theatres, the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. However, I went into this production completely blind. I vaguely knew of a couple of the songs but I knew nothing of the story or setting so I was interested to see what I would make of a ‘traditional’ musical considering that my taste mainly draws me to shows like Wicked, Jekyll and Hyde and Phantom of the Opera.
Despite going in blind to the story of this show I was certainly familiar with the cast. Tom Chambers plays the enthusiastic, lovelorn dancer Bobby Child who spearheads the effort to save a theatre from his mother’s bank. Chambers’ performance in my opinion encapsulates the heart of the original production of Crazy For You. He does this through his outstanding tap dancing and his comedic timing, which is vital for this script as it holds so much humour, had me laughing from start to finish. He feels so authentic in this part that I truly can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.
Despite being the leading man, I feel that Tom Chambers was accidently overtaken by his leading lady. Charlotte Wakefield, coming from a successful touring stint as Truly Scrumptious after taking over from Carrie Hope Fletcher in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, stole the show from all of the other principles in my opinion as she demonstrated that she can sing, dance and act as the head strong but sensitive Polly Baker. I only wish that there were more opportunities to hear her wonderful belting ability. Polly was by far my favourite character in this show and Wakefield is, in my opinion, the perfect actress to bring her to life. I would recommend this show to anyone simply to see Wakefield’s performance alongside Cambers.
However, Polly highlights the one fault I have with Bobby’s characterisation within the show. During songs such as ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and ‘But Not For Me’ the audience are treated to an in depth look into Polly’s thoughts and feelings which gives her depth as she reviles that her inner self is more sensitive than her tough exterior. On the other hand, I feel that this insight is missing from Bobby’s characterisation. This absence is mainly felt during ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’. Prior to this song, during the New York Interlude, Bobby is given the New York theatre. This song shows Bobby’s realisation that he really wants to go back to Hard Rock and Polly and at the end he rips the deed to the theatre to shreds. However, his specific desire to give up the theatre seems strange as it is only his love of Polly which is referred to throughout the song. Considering that all Bobby wants to do is dance and his possible conflict between owning the theatre and chasing his love seems underdeveloped here.
Caroline Flack is another star name heading up the cast as Irene Roth. I was not surprised at all to see her name on the cast list given her dancing experience shown on Strictly Come Dancing. She also sat in the centre of Irene’s character as a spoilt, demanding fiancée to Bobby, despite some sketchy details as to how she actually gained that title. However, I simply wish that her character was given more detail and bite. As I said, the details of how she came to call herself Bobby’s fiancée is sketchy so I would have loved to have seen that story be given far more discussion in the show as both Bobby and Irene switch from lover to lover throughout the show. Irene’s lack of detail and bite are combined in Irene’s relationship with Lank Hawkins. I was expecting them to become a couple in a plan to scupper Bobby and Polly’s attempts to save the theatre and this plot point is actually referenced by Irene but then it simply disappears. The two do eventually get married but their reasoning and Lank’s threat to the theatre are phased out completely. This was quite disappointing for me and I was sad to see that it also seeped into Flack’s performance of ‘Naughty Baby’. In this number Irene seems to shift from hating Lank to wanting him quite randomly simply because her intentions are not mentioned. This did not provide Flack with any opportunity to put some real intention into this song and her singing and even dancing seemed a little flat and soft, which did not fit with the cunning, sharp nature of the song.
I have saved one of the best aspects of this production for last. The ensemble is incredible. I cannot overstate how talented they are. Not only do they all sing, act as individual characters and obviously dance to the level of Tom Chambers and Charlotte Wakefield but they also are the orchestra. Each member of the ensemble plays multiple instruments throughout the show with no sheet music present, ever. This astounded me and I loved this original iconic aspect of the show. I must admit that this was slightly distracting during some songs because all I wanted to do was watch the violinists but there are plenty of songs where they are fully integrated into the staging. This production shows a true collaboration between Diego Pitarch’s set and the ensemble’s function as the orchestra. I loved the theatre set piece as it moved between the two locations of the show but it also fully integrated the instruments into the piece. The set and lighting add another level of polish to this production.
Overall, I had a lovely time seeing this show and I would give it four stars. The comedic script is right up my street and the gorgeous sets and lighting highlighted the dance aspect to create a treat for the eyes. While I feel some aspects of the story and characterisation could have been improved, the true stars of the show, Charlotte Wakefield and the ensemble acting as the orchestra, truly blew me away. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to try out this intriguing production and to give my mum the chance to see one of her favourite shows brought into the 21st century of theatrical production.
Crazy For You, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.
05 Sep – 09 Sep 2017
Starring Tom Chambers, Caroline Flack and Charlotte WakefieldTickets: £17.50 – £49.50 (£19 – £51*)
Age Guidance: 6+ (No under 2s)
Running Time: approximately 2 hours 35 minutes including an interval