Sometimes the less familiar shows in the Broadway Series South lineup turn out to be the most memorable. Such is the case with Troika Entertainment, LLC’s National Tour of Crazy for You, The New Gershwin Musical, which plays four more performances at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium this Saturday and Sunday. Director/choreographer Joey McKneely staged this must-see musical, with high style, great wit, and remarkable verve, especially in the high-stepping dance routines, which catapulted Friday’s opening-night audience to its feet, at the final curtain, for a prolonged standing ovation — and sent hundreds of happy theatergoers tap-dancing to their cars, whistling the magnificent Gershwin melodies.
Crazy for You also showcases the impressive acting, singing, and dancing talents of a highly capable young cast led by Kelly Lynn Cosme and Doug Barton. Cosme is delightful as feisty Polly Baker, the perky postmistress and headstrong belle of Deadrock, Nevada, a former gold-mining Mecca that has already fallen on hard times by the time the Great Depression commences. Cosme’s superlative phrasing, especially on her solo versions of “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Embraceable You,” mark her as a rising star of the American musical theater.
Doug Barton is a regular ball of fire as Bobby Child, a bored New York banker who desperately wants to break into show business. Barton is a charming comic actor; and although Bobby’s tap-dance tryout fails to impress Broadway producer Bela Zangler (Fletcher Young), Barton dances his way into the heart of the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium audience.
Fletcher Young is funny as Bela, and Amanda Lea LaVergne is amusing as the Zangler Follies girl who steadfastly resists the amorous advances of the married producer. Elizabeth T. Murff is hilarious as Bobby’s aristocratic Mother, who gets increasingly exasperated as her son sows wild oat after wild oat; and William Craighead and Jill Donnelly provide comic relief as Eugene and Patricia Fodor, stuffy British travel-guide writers whose business trip to Deadrock turns out to be a most eventful interlude.
Josh Mertz is a pistol as cantankerous Deadrock saloon and hotel owner Lank Hawkins, who has an unrequited crush on Polly; Kevin Murray is endearing as Polly’s sadsack father Everett; and Meg Kushma is striking as Patsy, a statuesque Zangler Follies girl who has the Deadrock denizens drooling all over their bib overalls.
The show’s female chorus (Amanda Braddock, Denise Caston, Kimberly Denkhaus, Melissa L. Harres, Stacey Sund, and Julie Tomaino) and male chorus (Whit Baldwin, Gabriel Beck, William Daniels, Corey P. Gosselin, Jeffrey M. Lawhorn, Shaun Patrick Moe, Kurtis Overby, and Chris Suchan) perform with precision, especially in the show’s intricate tap-dance sequences.
But Sarah Townsend Turner steals the show with her passionate performances as pushy socialite Irene Roth, who considers herself engaged to Bobby, whether he does or not. When Bobby falls in love with Polly and his emphatic and very public rejection of Irene ultimately ends her dream of marrying into the wealthy Child family, the ever-practical Irene sets her sights on Lank, lets down her hair, sheds her bodice, and shamelessly woos Lank and wins him, a la William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Her transformation from nag to vamp is the funniest extreme makeover since Lilith the Ice Queen finally unthawed on “Cheers.”
Musical director Scot Woolley (synthesizer), assistant musical director Stephen F. Smith (synthesizer), Matt Taylor (soprano and alto sax, clarinet, flute, and piccolo), Greg Gilmore (trumpet), John Toney (double bass), and Kobie Watkins (drums) not only sound like a full orchestra, but they provide invigorating instrumental accompaniment throughout he evening. The Gershwin songbook has seldom sounded better.
Scenic designer James Fouchard does a superb job of creating colorful scenery to suggest the heady atmosphere of the Great White Way and the dullness of life in Deadrock, lighting designer Rick Belzer skillfully illuminates the on-stage monkey business, costume designer Arnold Levine clothes the New York, Deadrock, and British characters in an eye-catching array of 1930s fashions, and sound designer Mark Norfolk skillfully moderates the show’s instrumental and the vocal segments.
Broadway Series South presents Crazy for You Saturday, March 12, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 13, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $36-$56. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Groups (20+): 919/857-4565, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/group.html#crazy [inactive 5/05]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/specials.html#crazy [inactive 5/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2807. PBS “Great Performances” Production: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/crazyforyou/ [inactive 1/06]. Official George & Ira Gershwin Web Site: http://www.gershwin.com/.
Troika Entertainment, LLC’s National Tour of Crazy for You, presented March 11-13 by Broadway Series South in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, is a splendid showcase for the magnificent music of George Gershwin (1898-1937) and piquant lyrics of Ira Gershwin (1896-1983). The Big Apple-born brothers’ contributions to the show-tune repertoire of the American musical theater include “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
“Crazy for You is a love story, with dancing cowboys, long-legged Follies girls, and a man who has a dream and wants to prove to his family that he can follow his dream,” says New York actress Kelly Lynn Cosme, who plays Deadrock, Nevada postmistress Polly Baker, a spunky smalltown girl.
When New York banker Bobby Child, a bon vivant with a special appetite for Follies girls, journeys to Deadrock to foreclose on the theater/post office owned by Polly’s father, Everett Baker (Kevin Murray), he meets pretty Polly and falls head over heels in love with her.
Cosme says, “Bobby Child [Doug Barton] wants to prove to his mom [Elizabeth T. Murff] that he is responsible. So, he does a favor for her and goes to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a property, which is a theater owned by my father. In doing so, he meets me — Polly Baker, the woman of his dreams — and falls in love.
“Instead of foreclosing on the property, Bobby decides to help Polly raise the money to save the theater. Polly, who is afraid of falling in love, doesn’t really fall for Bobby at first. She’s interested, but hesitant. When she finds out that he is the Bobby Child who’s going to foreclose on the property,” Cosme says, “she’s very angry and hurt. That’s when Bobby decides to dress up as [Broadway producer] Bela Zangler [Fletcher Young] and invites the Follies girls to Deadrock, Nevada, to put on a show and save the theater.…
“They try to put on a show, but no one shows up to see it. Bobby, dressed as Zangler, is disappointed and sorry,” Cosme says. “But Polly has fallen in love with Zangler, because he’s such a wonderful person and has helped her with the theater. Then she finds out that Zangler is not Zangler, but really Bobby.”
About that time, Cosme says, “The real Zangler comes into town, looking for Tess [Theresa Anne Swain], who’s one of the Follies girls. With Zangler there, the theater is able to raise enough money to pay off the mortgage.”
Heartbroken by Polly’s rejection of him, Bobby returns to New York. Then Polly realizes that she loves Bobby after all.
Cosme says, “Polly needs to go to New York to find Bobby, because she’s in love with him. [Simultaneously,] Bobby realizes that he loves Polly, so he goes back to Deadrock to find her.
“Just when you think that they’re going to miss each other, and be in different cities once again,” Cosme says, “Polly misses the train and comes back to the town while Bobby is there. And everything ends happily ever after.”
Conceived by Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor) and Broadway director Mike Ockrent, and inspired by material by Guy Bolton and John McGowan, Crazy for You is set in the 1930s in the theatrical district of New York City and in the desert metropolis of Deadrock, Nevada. The show features a lively book by Ludwig and all the songs mentioned above, plus a number of other Gershwin hits.
Crazy for You is a prize-winning musical that made its Broadway debut on Feb. 19, 1992 at the Shubert Theatre, and closed on Jan. 7, 1996 after 1,622 performances. The original Broadway production, directed by Mike Ockrent and choreographed by Susan Stroman, starred Harry Groener as Bobby Child, Jodi Benson as Polly Baker, Bruce Adler as Bela Zangler, and Raleigh, NC’s own Beth Leavel as Tess. That show received nine 1992 Tony Award® nominations, and won three Tonys — for Best Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Costume Design (North Carolina native William Ivey Long). (Crazy for You also won two Drama Desk Awards and five Outer Critics Awards.)
The current National Tour is a brand-new version of Crazy for You, directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely, with new orchestrations by Dave Pierce, musical direction by Scot Woolley, scenic design by James Fouchard, lighting design by Rick Belzer, costume design by Arnold Levine, and sound design by Mark Norfolk. Musical director Scot Woolley (synthesizer), assistant musical director Stephen F. Smith (synthesizer), Matt Taylor (soprano and alto sax, clarinet, flute, and piccolo), Greg Gilmore (trumpet), John Toney (double bass), and Kobie Watkins (drums) will make the show’s treasure trove of Gershwin musical gems sparkle.
Born and reared in Orlando, Florida, and educated at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, where she earned her BA degree in theater, Kelly Lynn Cosme notes that Joey McKneely’s direction and choreography for Crazy for You differs markedly from Mike Ockrent’s Tony-nominated direction and Susan Stroman’s Tony-winning choreography for the original Broadway production.
“For one thing,” Cosme says, “at the end of the show, we use the bow to continue to tell the story. Susan Stroman helped with the orchestration of the Broadway original, but we don’t use tools to bang on the hard hats and we don’t dance on the rooftops.”
Playing the plum part of Polly Baker in the current National Tour of Crazy for You is Cosme’s biggest career milestone to date. Little did she know, when she was growing up in Orlando with two older brothers, that she could use that experience in playing Polly Baker of Deadrock, Nevada.
“Polly is the only female in the town,” Cosme says, “so I can relate to being the only female in the household, other than my mom.”
Cosme says, “Polly is a feisty, headstrong woman who definitely knows what she wants. She is a caretaker; she takes all responsibilities for her father’s business, which is a theater that they have transformed into a post office, because they are not making any money as a theater. In the town, everyone is very laid back, and she’s the one with the most energy and the one who tries to get everyone to pep up a bit. She likes to get things done, and get them done quick.”
Ironically, Cosme’s first exposure to Crazy for You was back in Orlando. “I was cast as the understudy for Polly in Crazy for You, but it was in high school — a long time ago,” laughs the 26-year-old actress. Cosme later saw the show’s London production — which she says was very different from the Broadway production — in 1994 or 1995.
To play Polly Baker, an actress must be a theatrical triple threat: she must act, sing, and dance up a storm. “I was a dancer first,” Cosme says. “I danced in Orlando, and then I auditioned for a high school theater production — and never looked back. I decided there was more to life than just dancing.”
But Cosme says the toughest part of playing Polly is the singing. “Doing a show over and over and over,” says Cosme, “you have to keep your voice as healthy as possible. Even eating right and taking vitamins, your voice gets tired from doing eight shows a week.”
She adds, “I get to sing some amazing songs. The solos I sing are ‘Someone to Watch Over Me,’ ‘But Not for Me,’ ‘Embraceable You,’ and most of ‘I Got Rhythm,’ but then the ensemble comes in.” Cosme also harmonizes on “Could You Use Me?” and “Stiff Upper Lip.”
If they have never seen Crazy for You, Kelly Lynn Cosme says Broadway Series South patrons are in for a real treat. “We love it when people are very involved with the show,” she explains, “so don’t be afraid to laugh out loud. We all love what we are doing, and I hope that the audience can see that and enjoy it.”
Broadway Series South presents Crazy for You Friday, March 11, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 12, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 13, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $36-$56. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Groups (20+): 919/857-4565, email@example.com, or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/group.html#crazy [inactive 5/05]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/specials.html#crazy [inactive 5/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2807. PBS “Great Performances” Production: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/crazyforyou/ [inactive 1/06]. Official George & Ira Gershwin Web Site: http://www.gershwin.com/.