Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
As we know, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun; and mad dogs and theatre critics, of course, still go to the theatre, despite the record-breaking temperatures we’ve been experiencing this week.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (National Theatre)
On Monday, many of my colleagues braved the National Theatre for a production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, which I saw (some of) during an early preview, but left early as I wasn’t reviewing (given that it was such an early performance) and I wasn’t there as a guest of the management but had a paid-for ticket. (The show had also started 10 minutes late, jeopardising my plans to make my last train home).
Reading the reviews yesterday, I wondered if things had improved in the second act; the answer depended on who you read. For Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph and Clive Davis in The Times, both of which awarded it four stars, there was plenty to amuse; in Dom’s case, it was his third Much Ado of the year already, “following on from the RSC and The Globe. An embarrassment of Much Ados – but not a tedium. This is the one Shakespearean comedy that never seems to get stale no matter how familiar it gets. How so? Because we never tire of seeing romantic standoffishness defeated, human vanity gulled into declaring itself ready for the necessary sting of heartache.”
Clive, meanwhile, noted the weather: “On press night, heatwave London was a good six degrees warmer than the real-life Messina. Godwin’s approach turns up the temperature even higher: romantic ideals go hand in hand with an abundance of simmering sexuality.”
But it was Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard who spoke for me when he wrote, “Not even the combined talents of Katherine Parkinson and John Heffernan can breathe life into this flaccid production of Shakespeare’s comedy, a rare misfire by director Simon Godwin…. It’s not a bad show, exactly, just ponderous and hollow. This play should zing with witty repartee and with the thrilling, shocking sense that no one can trust their emotions: instead we get gelato, cravats and sunshine.” He also compares it to the Globe’s “superior production” and asks, parenthetically, “Didn’t theatres used to talk to each other to avoid scheduling clashes, by the way?”
CRAZY FOR YOU (Chichester Festival Theatre)
At least I didn’t have to worry about last trains or problematic journeys on overheated tracks yesterday for the opening of CRAZY FOR YOU at Chichester Festival Theatre, which is now, happily, my nearest local theatre: a 20 minute drive across the South Downs away from where I live in Amberley.
The original Broadway opening of this show — an entirely overhauled and re-titled version of Gershwin’s 1930 musical GIRL CRAZY — in February 1992, just over 30 years ago, saw Frank Rich, then the chief critic of the New York Times, mark it down as a historic moment.
As he declared,
“When future historians try to find the exact moment at which Broadway finally rose up to grab the musical back from the British, they just may conclude that the revolution began last night. The shot was fired at the Shubert Theater, where a riotously entertaining show called Crazy for You uncorked the American musical’s classic blend of music, laughter, dancing, sentiment and showmanship with a freshness and confidence rarely seen during the “Cats” decade.”
Suddenly, Broadway was able to laugh again, after the lush earnestness of such British imports as LES MIS, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and MISS SAIGON in the preceding decade, not to mention such misfires as CHESS and CARRIE. But actually it was a British revamp of another 30s musical ME AND MY GIRL that had also been part of that decade of the West End’s dominance of Broadway, transferring to Broadway in 1986; in 2018 Chichester tried to revive that show, too, but somehow the champagne failed to fizz again.
No such disappointment occurred last night, though, where original choreographer Susan Stroman — also now assuming the mantle of director, originally undertaken by the late Mike Ockrent, whom she subsequently married — brought CRAZY FOR YOU to effervescent life again. Like ANYTHING GOES — the Cole Porter musical also being given a new life in London right now at the Barbican — this is a gorgeous wallow in wonderful old songs, here by George and Ira Gershwin, and the silliest of comedies (expertly marshalled by Ken Ludwig, who was sitting next to me last night) that is both superbly staged and danced.
I’ve just re-booked to see ANYTHING GOES for a fifth time (I saw this production on Broadway first, then twice last year, and once this year already) and now have to make plans to see CRAZY FOR YOU again, too. It fulfills the first requirement of any musical, which is to spread contagious and uncontained joy. Who could ask for anything more? That’s not just a line from “I’ve got Rhythm”, the great production number that ends the first act, but how I feel about the entire show.
In a word, I’m Crazy for CRAZY FOR YOU. The shining star and centre of it is Charlie Stemp as Bobby Child, the theatre-struck rich kid who finds love — and his effortless dancing feet — thanks to the remote theatre in Deadrock, Nevada that his New York financier family firm are foreclosing on. Since his breakthrough role in HALF A SIXPENCE in 2016 — also at Chichester, that Cameron Mackintosh subsequently transferred to the West End (and who was in attendance last night) — Charlie has become one of our leading leading men.
In the intervening years making his Broadway debut in the revival of HELLO, DOLLY!, and currently starring in MARY POPPINS as chimney sweep Bert, from which he is taking a temporary leave of absence. (That run will now close in January, freeing the way for him to continue in CRAZY FOR YOU when it transfers, as it surely must). In an interview in The Stage, Stroman commented, “Choreographically, Charlie Stemp dances better than any Bobby I’ve had. He can really spin – he can turn 10 times on a dime and leap in the air very high. So we have enhanced it choreographically because of Charlie.”
But the entire company of this CRAZY FOR YOU is an exhilarating delight, from Carly Anderson’s delightful Polly Baker to Tom Edden’s Bella Zangler (with whom Stemp does the funniest mirroring scene I’ve ever seen), and Gay Soper’s imperial matriarch. And hearing this gorgeous, hit-packed Gershwin score — with new orchestrations by Doug Besterman, newly arranged by David Krane — is sheer enchantment.
If there is any downside, Beowulf Boritt’s designs currently look a little on the cheap side — though that could be an aesthetic choice, given the crummy resources they are working with in Deadwood.
After last year’s gorgeous and glorious SOUTH PACIFIC — soon to play a summer season at Sadler’s Wells in London as part of a national tour — CRAZY FOR YOU is otherwise another smash hit for Chichester.
SEE YOU ON FRIDAY
I’ll be back here on Friday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends