It is a brave company which puts on the first Fringe production of the Gershwins’ ‘Crazy for You’ so soon after the Regents Park Open Air production, which transferred successfully into the West End and only closed a few months ago. However, Ovation’s chutzpah is almost entirely justified.

‘Crazy For You’ is a reworking of ‘Girl Crazy’, the 1930 musical that was a kind of breather for the Gershwins on the road to transforming the possibilities of the musical from ‘Strike Up the Band’ to ‘Porgy and Bess’. The original had much fun with the concept of the then-fashionable Dude Ranch, a kind of Cattle-Trail-lite offering easy cowboy living to rich pampered Easterners. Ken Ludwig’s completely rewritten book wisely cuts the dated satire, substituting an implausible plot about a run-down theatre in the middle of Nevada which our stage-struck hero Bobby is sent to foreclose on by his domineering hero, only to try and revive its fortunes instead. In the process, he falls in love with Polly, the only woman left in town, and foregoes the delights of wedlock with wealthy bullying Irene, to whom he has been engaged for five years. It’s as light and preposterous as a Knickerbocker Glory, and really an excuse to shoehorn in a number of songs from other Gershwin musicals, in what is one of the first jukebox musicals.

‘Girl Crazy’ furnished the Great American Songbook with three great standards: Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm and But Not For Me. To these are added Someone To Watch Over Me, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, and Nice Work If You Can Get It. Pretty much every other song will have audience members of a certain age singing along under their breath. What is perhaps more interesting to the aficionado is the more obscure songs which are also imported. Five of the interpolations are from ‘A Damsel in Distress’, the least known of Fred Astaire’s 1930s movies because the only one not to feature Ginger Rogers.

The core of ‘Crazy For You’ is in the dancing, much of which is carried by Jay Rincon as Bobby. He has an engaging personal style of hoofing, all angular elbows, shoulders and hips. We have seen technically better tapping on the Fringe in 2012, but none more charming. He has a gift for comedy and brings real rapport to his scenes with Polly (a feisty full-throated Ceili O’Connor). Talking of comedy, he has a wonderful ‘false mirror’ scene, a variation on the classic Marx Brothers shtick in ‘Duck Soup’, with James Doughty.

Elsewhere, the chorus bring an almost exhausting energy and great close harmony work to their support. Grant Murphy’s choreography is at its most inventive when working with non-dancers, but runs out of steam a little with the more down-the-line virtuoso stuff. The production is marred by an over-literal set which involves bringing on and taking off large quantities of rather ugly MDF, but otherwise makes good use of the strip stage that runs the length of the theatre between two banks of audience.

Perhaps the biggest lack in the show is moments of stillness and genuine emotion. It contains three of the most enduring ballads in the canon, which are rather pertly polished off here. It would have been good to allow the performers a little more personal space to achieve a genuinely moving rapport with the audience. Nevertheless, audiences will come out with great big grins on their faces, as ‘Crazy for You’ offers a more-than-acceptable alternative for the Panto Season.

Reviews by Peter Scott-Presland

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The Blurb

Following the critically acclaimed High Society and Guys and Dolls, the in-house team at The Gatehouse now brings you another great American musical - Crazy For You.

Including the classic songs They Can't Take That Away From Me, I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You, Someone to Watch Over Me and Slap That Bass.

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