Friday, February 29, 2008
Who could ask for anything more? CCHS presents Crazy for You
The music is great. Who could ask for anything better than George and Ira Gershwin? Crazy for You opened in 1992 on Broadway and won the Tony for best musical that year, not to mention six other American and British theater awards, causing people to wonder whether the Gershwins were still alive and writing shows.
They were not; George had died at 38 in 1937 and Ira at 86 in 1983. Their legendary partnership, begun before the end of the First World War, produced much of America’s greatest popular music, all of it considered classic today. They also created some of the most memorable musicals and operettas of all time.
Crazy for You was not among these. Conceived by Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent, it was a patchwork piece with a fizzy plot based loosely on the Gershwins’ 1930 musical, Girl Crazy, with songs from that and many other Gershwin shows crammed into its quintessentially American boy meets girl, loses girl, and finally wins girl story. Ludwig wrote the book, updating Girl Crazy and adjusting it where necessary to accommodate more music, but wisely left Ira Gershwin’s lyrics alone. Ockrent directed the original toe-tapping production in the ebullient style of the original Gershwin musicals, but with a quickened tempo and more sophisticated dance style that would appeal to modern audiences. The result was a smash hit in 1992, and it will be a smash hit again when it opens at CCHS on March 7.
A week’s worth of rehearsal
On Friday morning, February 22, in defiance of a snowstorm, dedicated student actors, musicians, and technical staff joined Drama Director George Kendall and Pit Orchestra Director Al Dentino to wrap up a week of work on the show. They trooped in lugging costumes, backpacks, shoes and even pillows. The faithful staff of CCPOPS (Concord-Carlisle Patrons of Performing Students) parents were already in the kitchen, cooking up lunches and sending tantalizing smells into the auditorium. Other parents were assisting with costume fittings. The scene was noisy, cheerful, chaotic, yet, everyone had a job to do.
A pit orchestra of about 27 pieces supported Whit Garling, as Bobby Child, in “Nice Work If You Can Get it,” with a half dozen tapping chorus girls providing harmonic backup. Choreography, still being created as of that snowy morning, is lively and peppy, and students who have laced and strapped on tap shoes for the first time found it irresistible between numbers to practice their steps and feel the rhythms of their shoes. “Nice Work,” like most of the pieces in the show, includes an interlude of dance that showcases George Gershwin’s sophisticated rhythms. These rhythms are smooth and urbane, but they are not easy, and Dentino and Choreographer Joanne Gervais shouted the counts: “five, six, seven, eight, and-a ONE!” and “Diggeta-diggeta-diggeta-ONE!” to drill the syncopation into their players until they could feel it naturally.
The dance sequences are appealing not only because the choreography is fresh and sparkling, but because the orchestrations use those interludes to weave in snippets of music from the other wonderful tunes in the show. The beautiful ballad, “Embraceable You,” shows up in the “Nice Work” dance sequence. As the ladies and gents of the dance ensemble perform the sassy and jazzy, “Slap that Bass,” one can hear the strains of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “Bidin’ My Time.” Throughout, the show’s musical numbers like “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “Naughty Baby” and “But Not for Me” (are you humming already?) weave in and out of the score, so that by the time the curtain closes, you know the tunes and you cannot avoid walking up the aisle and out of the auditorium with the music in your head. The CCHS singers, dancers and pit orchestra will give you all the audio and visual cues you need to remember this music and your evening of CCHS theater.
A set built especially for farce
Remarkable student technical crews have been at work as well, constructing sets and lighting that accommodate a story that zigs and zags between New York and Deadrock, Nevada. The sets are reversible building fronts on wheeled frames (wagons) that create interiors and exteriors for dual locations, and the lighting, still in composition on February 22, was already generating the atmospheres required for the disparate environments. There are plenty of working doors in and out of which characters can run and chase each other, and through which fast entrances and exits can occur seamlessly. Audiences will have no trouble feeling the difference between the concrete and brick canyons of New York and the dusty wood-frame saloon and general store porch fronts of Deadrock.
The roots of American musical theater
Two things were evident during the final vacation week rehearsal: the students were working very hard, and they were having a lot of fun. Crazy For You reaches backward in time to the energetic, silly, farcical days of vaudeville that were the roots of the American musical. However, the great music of the Broadway composers was and is the lynchpin of the success of this very American genre. The combination of the two elements produced a form different from anything that had gone before and still very much alive today. CCHS students are re-establishing with great skill the preeminence of American musical comedy with Crazy For You. They got rhythm, they got music, who could ask for anything more? âˆ†
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito