When it comes to writing a compilation musical, Jennifer Saunders should take a leaf out of Ken Ludwig's book. His cheeky Gershwin mash-up 'Crazy For You' puts 'Viva Forever!' to shame.?Following the Open Air Theatre's hit 2011 revival, it receives its fringe premiere at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Taking all of George and Ira's biggest hits, Ludwig's musical monolith is a barnstorming rom-com with no dud tunes but plenty of epic dance numbers. Surely you need space to tackle this love story to showbiz, right?
Technically, yes and no. After the sort of logistical effort that would impress even Ludwig's pushy hero Bobby Child, director John Plews has provided all that the Gershwin estate could ask for. Ostensibly this production ticks all the boxes, but at some cost.
New York banker Bobby (an uncomfortable Jay Rincon) wants to pack it all in and be a stage star. So he travels West, meets the plucky Poppy (Ceili O'Connor), falls in love and tries to save her theatre by putting on a show. Suzi Lombardelli's interchangeable, bookended set transforms into each location with ease. Grant Murphy's choreography is infused with MGM references and has a lot of charm. Musical director Oliver-John Ruthven's tidy musical sextet provides a rhythmic momentum worthy of any bandstand, while with her gusty charisma, soaring vocals and fancy footwork, O'Connor is a future West End star.
But all this takes its toll. As jazz hands and scissor kicks fly past our faces you begin to feel bombarded as in the intimate theatre the gargantuan effort involved becomes evident. Perhaps unfairly, in a show about theatrical effort we don't want to recognise any in the cast in front of us. This coupled with an awkwardly over-the-top leading man, makes it difficult to be totally crazy for this audacious fringe production.
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