To understand the new Drury Lane Theatre production of "Crazy for You," a title that feels apt given recent political events, you really had to see its director and choreographer, Matt Crowle, play Leo Bloom in "The Producers" at the Mercury Theater earlier this year. Or Patsy in "Spamalot." Or Burt in "Mary Poppins." Crowle, one of the Chicago theater's least-sung, whopping talents, is a physically deft, always live and exceptionally funny guy with an innate and very rare sense of comic timing.
Although Crowle has performed at all of the major houses around town and directed with smaller companies, he's never before been given full control of a show at a theater this size. This is the first time. Let us all hope many more will follow.
Crowle takes one of those retrofit musicals that was designed to exploit the songbook of major American songwriters — in this case, George and Ira Gershwin — and makes it a hugely enjoyable experience, not least because his choreography feels exceptionally fresh. In number after number — and this show has number after number — you find yourself watching the steps with unusual attention because Crowle makes them so arrestingly interesting and emotional, and thus so much a part of the vocabulary of the show.
"Crazy for You" has a backstage plot involving the saving of an old theater in Nevada — which makes it part "Annie Get Your Gun," part "Holiday Inn" and, of course, part "Girl Crazy," upon which Ken Ludwig's book was somewhat based. I've seen this 1992 show several times and always found that Deadwood gestalt to be a weird match for the urbane romanticism of such martini-friendly Gershwin classics as "But Not For Me," "Embraceable You," and "Someone to Watch Over Me," for the show has pulled in pretty much all the Gershwin greatest hits and thus has to contort itself greatly to make the lyrics fit the book.
I've also found the multifarious shtick — which involves romantic mistaken identity — pretty dumb. Darned, through, if Crowle and his cast don't make all these groaners work, partly by really going there in terms of physical commitment and partly by paying exquisite attention to pace and timing. I was tickled pink by the sight of Larry Adams, who plays the vaudeville boss Bela Zangler, just disappearing below the counter of a bar, and Harter Clingman is hilarious in the typically throwaway role of cowboy Moose.
Crowle's leading asset, though, is the real-life Broadway couple of Clyde Alves and Robyn Hurder, doubtless attracted to take the Oakbrook Terrace gig by the chance to work together in leading roles. They're both genuine triple-threats and it's positively beguiling to watch them dance together. Hurder is just terrific, not least because (with the help of the costume designer Caitlin McLeod) she really looks like a woman of the Old West, tough as Annie Oakley but also vulnerable when it comes to affairs of the heart. You would not call "Crazy for You" a feminist musical, but especially in this production it is a show with an unusually assertive female lead who pretty much bends a variety of pliable, less-intelligent dudes to her own satisfaction and desire. You just want to spend more time in Hurder's company and yet you also feel like Alves' needy Bobby Child is her Polly Baker's ideal guy. Often in musicals in Chicago, you get one or the other of those prerequisites. These leads give you both.
The comic off-leads, played by Rod Thomas and Erica Stephan, are funny too, and, as the exceptionally well cast show demands, a tad more caustic and aggressive, pulling in the darker gags while letting the romance rain down on the happy couple that takes some two hours and 30 minutes to figure out they can actually be happy. So, folks, you've got a "Crazy For You" happening in Oakbrook Terrace (on a huge set from Jeffrey D. Kmiec that takes great care to create exciting space for dance) fully comparable to what you'd typically find in, say, a Broadway revival of this title at the Roundabout Theatre.
"Crazy for You" is no dramaturgical masterpiece, but this highly entertaining piece has shown us all what Crowle can do in the future.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
REVIEW: "Crazy for You" (3 STARS)