Crazy For You, performed by ArtsEd London final-year Musical Theatre students at the Studio Theatre, Chiswick, continues until 24 January.
Star rating: 4 stars ****
The year is young but it’s doubtful if anything we see in the next 11 months will approach the extraordinary energy levels of ArtsEd’s high-octane triple-threat confection that marries a shedload of great Gershwin brothers’ hits to one of the dottiest storylines ever dreamt up.
Crazy For You, loosely based on George and Ira’s 1930 musical Girl Crazy but given a massive tweak by Ken Ludwig for the 1992 ‘new’ Gershwin that conquered Broadway and London, is an ideal vehicle for students to show off every razzmatazz facet of their chosen craft, whether it be tap dancing, comic timing, singing skills, dexterity with accents, or exhausting ensemble routines.
Not every musical has to have the blood of a Therese Raquin or a Sweeney Todd or the brutality of a Cabaret, and this show is sweet, simple, old-fashioned entertainment which carries the audience with it from the outset and never lets up.
The work being achieved in Britain’s theatrical schools of learning is quite mind-boggling. It is hard to believe standards have ever been so high and this production stands comparison with the two best I reviewed last year, the Guildhall’s Grand Hotel and PPA’s Into the Woods.
There is not a weakness in a very large cast and Sam O’Rourke and Emily Langham as the two leads, the showbiz wannabe New York banker and spunky tomboy, the only girl among sex-starved, under-employed cowpokes in a deadbeat Nevada desert hole, are lovely together, O’Rourke’s tap-work and quick-change adaptability particularly impressive. Both have big futures.
In support, the cameos of the ever-so-English pair writing a guide book about the Wild West are total joy in the hands of Megan Armstrong and Ben Stacey, both wickedly accurate with their cut-glass accents and spot-on with the comedy classic ‘Stiff Upper Lip’.
A word too for all those languid cowboys, whose two left feet miraculously reach Astaire standard under the tutelage of the leggy, luscious showgirls and Bobby’s ditched fiancé, with the statuesque Sienna Sebek vamping gloriously on ‘Naughty Baby’ for her new man (Phillip Ryan in fine villainous form).
Ludwig’s sharp, typically American one-liners are delivered with perfect timing, dance routines brilliantly choreographed (by Adam Murray), the singing and sentimentality of Gershwin’s wonderful melodies delivered with punch and polish, the costumes, what there is of them, are lurid and lavish… and what a pace they go at.
Backed up by an ingenious set (Anthony Lamble) and a band of five, led by Ross Leadbeater, that clearly relishes having such time-tested music to play, this is a show, under Cameron Wenn’s pacy, imaginative direction, that ticks all the boxes unless you are expecting an evening of intellectual stimulation.
Whatever tablets these tireless stars of the future are taking, can they please pass the name on as my after-show tap routine on the Turnham Green platform did not elicit quite the same measure of applause as a sold-out audience (not least Sir Trevor Nunn) accorded this total triumph.
When the worst you can say is that the interval was too long (due to a malfunctioning set) and one of the dancers had a hole in her stocking, then you know you’ve had a belter of a night.
Crazy For You? I’m crazy for ArtsEd. Bring on The Addams Family next month!