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Charming musical gives great Gershwin

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

By Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance Critic

When "Crazy for You" opened on Broadway in 1992, the unquestionable star of the production was choreographer Susan Stroman. And despite the fact it won the Tony award as Best Musical, it seemed like a string of choreographic pearls set to the timeless music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Tonight at 8:30 on WQED/WQEX, "Crazy for You" will debut on PBS's "Great Performances" in a production filmed at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., under the supervision of its original Broadway creators.

For some reason this version seems more substantial than the original. Maybe it's the up-close-and-personal detail of the camera work by television director Matthew Diamond, although he occasionally opts for overabundant angles in the big production numbers. Still, Diamond picks up minute characterizations sometimes lost on the stage, spotlighting the antics of a wild and "crazy" gang of Wild West performers and endearing them to the viewer.

It also beefs up the airy story that depicts a rich scion of a New York banking family, Bobby (Jim Walton), and his search for happiness performing on a Broadway stage.

Ghosts of Broadway and Hollywood musicals seem to hover happily over this show. Walton and Stacey Logan (Polly) are undoubtedly an updated reincarnation of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. She is perfectly feisty as the Western heroine who captures his fancy. (It's also interesting to note that she made her debut in the original "Crazy" as the airhead chorus girl, Patsy.) He is a triple-threat -- a stylish tapper like Astaire with the pratfall timing of Dick Van Dyke and a touch of the winsome Orson Bean.

There also are shades of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland ("Let's put on a show!"), a few ruffles from the Ziegfeld Follies, the physicality of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," a nod to Gene Kelly and an improbable take-off on "Les Miserables."

And still Stroman isn't done.

It's like the proverbial kitchen sink. Fluffy pink chorines pile in and out of a limousine. The women become human basses with long strings. "I Got Rhythm" uses pick axes, tin pans, hammers and everything that isn't nailed down in the mining town of Deadrock, Nev. And this new Fred and Ginger whirl as they waltz on a mechanized three-tier cake for the ultimate romantic finale.

But somehow the production stays glued to its purpose -- lighthearted entertainment. No doubt it's the Gershwin score that holds it all above the level of just imitation. There are no less than six bona fide standards, including "Embraceable You," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me," along with some rare treasures like "Naughty Baby."

Maybe it's the fact that "Crazy for You" isn't afraid, when all is said and done, to poke fun at itself, even when it inserts some vaudeville shtick. There aren't too many charming, yet deliciously intelligent productions out there.

Maybe "Things Are Looking Up."


"Crazy for You"

When: 8:30 tonight on WQED/WQEX.

Starring: Jim Walton and Stacey Logan.

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