Crazy For You
Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
March 4-26, 2017
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, Hicksbiz.com
It was an audacious daring experiment, even as Momma Mia was being awkwardly built around a framework of ABBA songs.
In 1992, playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me A Tenor) took the classic hits of George and Ira Gershwin from the 1920s and 1930s, stitching them into a successful new Broadway “jukebox” comedy musical that utterly captured the spirit and humour of the songs and their era, and, at the same time, had a strong story line – not just a series of sketches hung between songs.
The Citadel’s version of Crazy For You, in partnership with Theatre Calgary, works like a damn.
It’s big, boisterous, full of fun, silliness, and word-play groaners. The plot is pure fluff, but it’s fun fluff – show girls, dreams, cow pokes, crazy impresarios, veering in locale from New York City to Deadrock, Nevada.
The dancing is vaudeville tap-dancing and full-belt Gene Kelly. The 22-person (!!) cast must be quite exhausted by the time the curtain falls each evening.
What’s most impressive about this show is the home-grown triple-threat talent. Every leading role save that of heroine Polly Baker (Ayrin Mackie) is played by actors who call Edmonton home.
Andrew MacDonald-Smith – trained through many seasons at Teatro Quindicina – came of age when he starred as Bert in the Citadel’s Mary Poppins three years ago, showing his talents as a hoofer and a singer and an actor eerily reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke.
This time round, as the character Bobby Child, MacDonald-Smith carries the show, on stage virtually every minute of this near three-hour production (don’t worry – it races by).
MacDonald-Smith has nailed Bobby’s boyish enthusiasm and naivety within all the slapstick. He runs Bobby's emotional gauntlet with ease, has a fine, pure tenor of a voice and is a loose-limbed, all legs and arms dancer who's a pleasure to watch.
John Ullyat is arguably the most versatile actor in town – dramatic, comedic, singing, dancing, busker and aerial artist. He has starred, in every which style, in at least 10 major Citadel Theatre shows.
This time he is at his comic best in a Groucho Marx role as the merciless, but ultimately good-hearted, thick-accented impresario Bela Zangler. A comic duet with MacDonald-Smith (pretending to be Zangler - ya gotta see the show) is the funniest physical comedy on a Citadel stage since One Man, Two Guvnors.
Jesse Gervais is growing his reputation as a terrific, fearless comedic actor. This time around it’s as Lank the manic-depressive saloon-keeper and he’s a beauty. Rachel Bowron, Sheldon Elter and Susan Gilmour make the most of their respective, comedy-driven, secondary roles.
Central to the show, of course, are the show’s 20 Gershwin brothers’ tunes – you’ll be surprised how many you will recognize beyond I Got Rhythm, Someone To watch Over Me and Shall We Dance.
The regaling, lingering impression of this show will be its magnitude.
How often can you witness 22 (all-adult) actors in three hours of full-throttle singing accompanied by a 14-person orchestra, superbly-choreographed, super-energetic dancing (mostly tap), comedy by the bucket-full and a plot that, however improbable, is just fine for a superb night of suspended disbelief.