Reviews/Musical Theatre

Students star in euphoric musical

14 June 2021

WAAPA’s music theatre students remount George and Ira Gershwin’s delirious Crazy For You a decade after its fabulous 2011 production, and for David Zampatti, the thrill is still there.

Crazy for You, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 11 June 2021 ·

Ten years ago to the night, we walked out of the Regal Theatre onto Rokeby Road, and, as I wrote at the time, the only disappointment was that the cabs were white, not yellow, and the joint across the road was called The Llama Bar, not Sardi’s.

The show we’d been to was the distilled epitome of the Broadway musical, George and Ira Gershwin’s Crazy for You, and that production, by the Western Australian Academy of Performing Art’s graduating music theatre students (supported by the course’s sophomore class and the academy’s music students) was an utter delight.

A decade on, and Crazy for You is back, directed once again by Crispin Taylor, this time at His Majesty’s Theatre – and so is the delight.

One thing that struck me second time around is the joys of the book by Ken Ludwig. Traditionally the scriptwriter nearly always comes a poor third to the composer and lyricists, but I beg to differ with Taylor’s assertion in the programme that Crazy for You’s storyline is merely “a means to get from one famous song to another”. Maybe it’s because the depth of the Maj’s lyric stage offers many more opportunities for set designer Matthew Raven and choreographer Jayne Smeulders than the relatively shallow Regal stage, but the look of the show is fuller and more engaging, and this is much to the benefit of the storyline.

a man lifts a girl in an elegant dance hold
The young banker Bobby Child (James MacAlpine) is smitten by Polly Baker (Chloe Malek), in WAAPA’s production of ‘Crazy for You’. Photo supplied

Whatever the reason, there are laughs aplenty in the hokey story of the young banker Bobby Child (James MacAlpine) who leaves New York, his battle-axe of a mother (Emily Svarnias) and long-time fiancé, Irene (Amber Scates), to foreclose on an all-but-derelict theatre in the aptly-named Deadrock, Nevada. He is instantly smitten by the daughter of the owner of the theatre, Polly Baker (Chloe Malek). (As it turns out, the feisty Malek, who is, perhaps not coincidentally, reminiscent of Doris Day in Annie Get Your Gun, gives him a good smiting a few times during proceedings.)  

The rest is as inevitable as the sun rising over the local rattlesnakes and tumbleweed, but involves a case of mistaken identity, a grasping saloon owner (Thomas Lerk), a whole bunch of lonesome ranchhands (most notably Sam Moloney, Sammy Alsop and Kyle Colburn as the cowboy trio), a trainload of chorus girls, a big fight and a giant double staircase.

You don’t need to know the details, but you do know the songs, which were rounded up from the original Girl Crazy (1930) and a herd of other Gershwin shows for this 1992 overhaul that garnered a swag of awards either side of the pond and did what Variety delights in calling “boffo box office” wherever it landed.

There’s “Embraceable You”, the exquisite “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”, “Nice Work if You Can Get It”, “Someone to Watch over Me”, “But Not for Me” and the hall-of-fame showstopper “I’ve Got Rhythm”, along with terrific character tunes like “Bidin’ My Time”, “Slap That Bass”, “Stiff Upper Lip” and “The Real American Folk Song is a Rag”.

It’s a glorious parade of seminal American show music from its greatest exponent, daring and sophisticated, sexy (Scates’s “Naughty Baby” is exactly as advertised), phenomenally optimistic, and deliriously toe-tapworthy.

Two men in cream suits peer across a table at each other, over their glasses.
James MacAlpine and Kyle Hall mirror each other in a side-splitting scene from ‘Crazy for You’. Photo supplied

The comic turns are terrific, especially the side-splitting scene with MacAlpine and Kyle Hall, both as the producer Bela Zangler, pissed as newts and mirroring each other to “What Causes That”.   

At its apogee, the singers, dancers and musical director Tim Cunniffe’s 30-piece orchestra go at it hammer and tongs in some of the biggest big numbers you’re ever likely to see here. The effect is little short of euphoric.

Great credit goes to the ensemble, many of whom we’ll see in their final year in 2022; the gals are marvellous (in one number costume designer Elyse McAaullife dressed them in pastel skirts like an all singin’, all dancin’, all smilin’ box of crayons), and the boys are full of fun and athleticism – I look forward to seeing them in principal roles next year.

As we walked out of the Maj last night, I had no disappointments, only curiosity. How are Hollie James and Tom Handley, Ben Adams, Lisa Hanley, Holly Meegan, Sian Johnson, Loren Hunter, Tim Grimes, Josh Stent and the rest of the cast of that other Crazy For You a decade ago going? Are their dreams intact? Have their hopes been realized? Has the world they chose, with all its pitfalls and blind alleys (to say nothing of the COVID catastrophe), worked out for them?

Because it’s these kids, young adults as they are now, who dangle over the precipice of a performer’s life for our entertainment.

And if they’re crazy to do it, they’re crazy for us.

Crazy for You continues at His Majesty’s Theatre until June 17.

Pictured top: Sam Moloney, Sammy Alsop and Kyle Colburn as the cowboy trio in ‘Crazy for You’. Photo supplied

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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