There's something about one Gershwin show that goes with economic recessions.
When brothers George and Ira premiered “Girl Crazy” on Broadway in 1930, the United States was on its knees from a brutal stock-market crash.
When librettist Ken Ludwig and director Mike Ockrent adapted that story loosely into the Tony-winning “Crazy for You” in 1992, America was trying to struggle back from a drop in industrial production, manufacturing and trade.
Now, with the housing market slumping and jobs vanishing, Charlotte's getting another crack at this infectiously escapist show. Anyone seeking two and a half trouble-free hours will find them at Central Piedmont Community College, where the Summer Theatre is closing its season with “Crazy.”
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Like a centipede, the show moves best when all 40 of its legs work in unison. Choreographer Eddie Mabry has drilled his team of tap dancers to a level of startling precision; when they stomp into “I Got Rhythm,” incorporating a shovel and a hammer and a series of miners' pans, they kick us into a realm of pure pleasure. (I saw that 1992 Broadway production and, if memory serves, Mabry or director Tom Hollis must've added the happily clanking pans.)
That's not to say the show doesn't work in quieter moments. There's a lollingly funny bit where theatrical impresario Bela Zangler (Gerald Colbert) and the young hoofer impersonating him (Nic Bryan) do a Marx Brothers-like mirror duet, each drunkenly matching his comrade. The famous numbers are mostly ballads, done by Drina Keen's orchestra at the jaunty tempos of the '30s: “Embraceable You,” “But Not for Me,” “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Yet the most memorable moments come when the ensemble is tapping at full roar.
The plot can be summed up in a sentence: Would-be dancer Bobby Child (Bryan) goes to Nevada to foreclose on a theater on his mother's behalf, falls in love with a young woman (Julianne Katz) whose family owns it and decides to save it with a grand musical show.
The actors' accents may be variable and inauthentic, but their spirit isn't. When Bryan's tapping, he has unexpected suavity and pizzazz; when Katz is singing, she's warm and plaintive in just the right way.
The troupe strains for comedy at times, unhelped by such vaudeville exchanges as this:
“I didn't come here to be insulted.”
“Where do you usually go?”
“Can you give me a room and a bath?”
“I can give you a room, but you'll have to give yourself a bath.”
The actors were saddled with a blurry sound system. This was my first time in Halton Theatre; a veteran told me its microphones may turn voices to mush, and the small ensemble that sang “Bidin' My Time” was crippled by them.
Luckily, soloists cut through. And when the ensemble's freight train of feet churned at full speed, no mike on earth could have prevented them from making their full effect.