One solid tap dancer can rival the rat-a-tap-tap hammering of the speediest woodpecker.
Assemble a platoon of good tappers, and you’ll hear the glorious roar of a hailstorm pounding on a tin roof.
And when they tappita-tappita-tappita with the precision, energy and skill of these youthful hoofers, an audience will threaten to lift that roof right off the house.
And lift it they did--- “I’ve Got Rhythm”, opening night, closing number of the first act of Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre’s ‘Crazy for You’.
What a way to welcome the Summer Solstice!
‘Crazy for You’, its director Charles Richter told us, is playwright Ken Ludwig’s “revisioned” rendering of a 1930’s Gershwin musical comedy, ‘Girl Crazy’.
The plotline runs something like this: A young NYC banker who is coincidentally an aspiring dancer is sent to foreclose on a theater in the town of Deadrock, Nevada. Instead of foreclosing, he falls in love with the theater owner’s daughter, disguises himself as the Broadway impresario who has been wooing his mother, and determines to put on a show to pay off the mortgage.
Enough of that. Knowing the plotline in advance won’t help. In fact, the less you worry about whatever story Ken Ludwig was trying to tell, the more energy you’ll have left to focus on what really counts.
The music is still all Gershwin, but everything else is quite altered, including a wonderful playlist that has more narrative qualities than Ludwig’s script which reads like a stack of file cards that have gotten out of order.
However, we don’t want to mislead you with our quibbles over the book’s deficiencies. In some perverse way, those deficiencies make the efforts of the cast and crew even more extraordinary.
The orchestrations under the baton of Ed Bara were proficient and clean, the singing forceful (aside from one harrowing solo in the second act) and quite competent.
The sets by Campbell Baird were colorful, sweeping, and abundant.
The lighting of John McKernon did what was demanded of it. (Imagine if someone danced like this and you couldn’t see it!)
And the acting was---- well, there really wasn’t all that much acting. And that was hardly the actors’ fault; there wasn’t much of a script for them to act. Even with that, the acting they were allowed to do was flawless and commendable.
But, the dancing…..!
It may be simplest just to say the stars of this show were the Feet.
And so, we gustily applaud the dancers to whom those appendages were loosely attached, particularly that living, breathing marionette, Frankie J. Grande, who played the young man, Bobby Child, around whom this flimsy tale was spun, and an ensemble of levitating limbs that kept the air swirling and the boards thumping through the nearly three hour barrage of glides, slides, spins, rolls, flips, and cartwheels.
Let us bow in homage to the almost sadistically demanding choreographer, Karen Dearborn. One marvels not only that she could conceive these dances, but also and equally that these young dancers could execute them.
Those dances had buttons on them, folks!
Now a few words about the script! Skip over this if you have no patience for mediocrity.
No matter how hard the troupers labored, only occasionally could an actor wring even the driest chuckle from the withered fruit of Ludwig’s barren scrawl.
And who could fault them?
Comic: “I’ve got good news and bad news.”
Foil: “What’s the bad news?”
Comic: ”You will not be dancing.”
Foil: “What’s the good news?”
Comic: “You will not be dancing.”
And one more example, should you feel that last one may have been taken unfairly out of context:
Foil: “I can show you the wide open spaces.”
Comic: “I have no desire to look inside your head.”
Only Stephen Bauder in the role of Lank Hawkins, aided by his chiseled and expressive countenance and by his superb and insistent comedic timing, was able consistently to elicit anything resembling sustained laughter.
Ah, we must not fail to mention that one beautifully played bit of business, the success of which surely must be attributed both to its director, Richter, and its two young participants, Grande in comic disguise and Jarrod Yuskauskas as Bela Zangler. They took the simplest of acting class exercises, the mirror drill, and performed it while seated---- which is seldom done and not simple to pull off. That scene also had the one truly funny line in the entire show. I won’t tell you what it is. There’s just the one, so why spoil it!
In an interview, Richter had promised us a fight scene to end all fight scenes, to be created by noted fight choreographer, Michael Chin. And it was, indeed, truly ambitious.
But, it really wasn’t a fight scene so much as another in the show’s long line of wonderful dances. In this age of Mixed Martial Arts, stage fight fans demand more contact, more pop, and more pain.
We will tell you, though, that it concluded with a Greg Louganis-quality belly-flop by former diver Nicholas Picknally off the second floor landing into the cradling arms of the ensemble, a far more dangerous and breathtaking stunt than any punch or kick to the ribs.
The splendid singing was amplified, as is sadly customary these days in musical theater, although the venue is surely intimate enough that someone might figure out a happier compromise between orchestra and vocalist. And if the singing must be amplified, does it necessarily follow that so too must the dialogue? We await a producer bold enough to break free of the curse of those wiry leeches that trace along the performers’ cheekbones.
Let’s put it this way: microphones should be confined to the wire-tapper, not the dance-tapper.
Sari Weinerman as Polly Baker, Jarrod Yuskauskas as Bela Zangler, and Angela DeAngelo as Tess contributed wonderful efforts when the feet were still. And, when the music began, and the feet began to tickle the floor once more, they more than ably supported the principal dancers.
So, don’t ruminate, speculate, or hesitate. Grab your money and your honey, and skip down to the Baker Theatre in Muhlenberg College’s Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, 2400 Chew Street, Allentown, Pa.