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Crazy for You

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Crazy for You, Gillian Lynne Theatre, 2022
Photo by Johan Persson

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A stupendously good lead turn from Charlie Stemp powers this feelgood faux-Golden Age musical romp

‘Crazy for You’ is a lethally precise exercise in nostalgia, a counterfeit Golden Age musical that takes classic songs by George and Ira Gershwin - ‘Embracable You’, ‘I Got Rhythm’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ - and reformats them into a ‘let’s put on the show right here’ romp that feels so classic that it’s almost impossible to process that it’s actually from 1992, the year after Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ came out. 

This transferring Chichester Festival revival has received rapturous reviews, but, I’m going to be honest: I’m a bit suspicious. Directed and choreographed by the great Susan Stroman – who in a further, meta layer of nostalgia, choreographed the original production – it is a dazzling widescreen spectacle, full of breezy good cheer, powerhouse performances,  jaw-droppingly choreographed setpieces and songs as perky as a punnet of puppies. You want tap dancing? My friend, you will get tap dancing. So much tap dancing.

But to what precise end? Bucketloads of talent have gone into ‘Crazy for You’, but it feels naggingly ersatz, a lavish imitation of a bygone era of musical theatre that’s slightly frustrating for the lack of anything more modern in it.

Set in the Great Depression, it follows dreamy, showbiz obsessed Bobby Child (Charlie Stemp), who is sent by his monstrous banker mother to foreclose a theatre in a nowhere Nevada town, whereupon he promptly falls in love with sassy local postmistress Polly (Carly Anderson), and decides to save the theatre by giving it its first hit in 20 years.

With a book by the still very much alive US playwright Ken Ludwig, ‘Crazy for You” is based on the 1930 musical ‘Girl Crazy’, and polishes up the story and humour into a somewhat slicker, more coherent package. There are a couple of knowingly anachronistic gags in there. And in 1992 it served as a sort of reaffirmation of the Great American Musical after years of British dominance. But in 2023 I’m not sure it really has an obvious meaning beyond feelgood imitation. 

Still, this is to a large extent, a me problem. It is obviously fun, a veritable themepark ride of a show. And I’m also totally burying the lede here, which is that star Stemp is so good that his presence alone feels like justification for the whole endeavour. 

A Cameron Macintosh-nurtured prodigy, his old-school, Mickey Rooney-ish credentials have been established via lengthy stints in West End retro smashes ‘Half a Sixpence’ and ‘Mary Poppins’. He can sing, he can dance, he can act: yadda yadda yadda, triple threat. 

What marks his turn here is what a prodigious physical comedian he is. During the numerous scenes in which Bobby is drunk, flustered, or otherwise embroiled in Shenanigans, Stemp pings rubberishly around the stage like a human cartoon, often in apparent total defiance of the laws of both physics and human biology. He harks back to a more physical era of comedy – the silent screen, even – but at the same time he actually mostly reminded me of an in-his-prime Lee Evans: there’s a visceral thrill to seeing him contort himself that goes beyond simple slapstick 

I have no idea if his skillset is the sort liable to make him a screen star these days – as it surely would have done 90 years ago. But against the background of this immaculate fake musical, he truly is the real deal.


£25-£250. Runs 2hr 50min
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