So why, by the first act finale, "I Got Rhythm", was I sitting in the auditorium of Waltham High School with a silly grin on my face and tears of joy running down my cheeks? Because the Reagle's "Crazy For You" is unimaginably wonderful, that's why. It's like watching a home town stock clerk win a medal at the Olympics -- it has that kind of hold on the heart.
The grin starts with the first blue note out of the trumpet in the overture, when it becomes clear that Jeffrey Leonard 's 22 first rate musicians are going to play the Gershwin arrangements as if they were real music. Dean Stroop, decked out like a sophisticate in top hat and tails, is really an overgrown kid. Playing Bobby Child --get it?--Child?--the hero, Stroop makes Bobby's ambition to be a song and dance man in an upscale girlie show seem as pure and admirable as a call to the priesthood. Then the chorus girls materialize in their tulle and spangles like a fluffy pink dream, and they dance like a dream, too.
Americans may sometimes flunk Philosophical Profundity and Political Theory, but we get E's for Effort and Exuberance and an A for Athleticism. Musical comedy is our native art form, and during the second half of the twentieth century, the choreographer has been its master craftsman. Susan Stroman's dance numbers for "Crazy For You" pay tribute to the ballroom styles of the 1930's, define the show's characters and make visible the structure of the music and the narrative; but they also sum up the whole history of show dancing, with pastiche, homage, and even some classical allusion thrown in. "Slap That Bass", "I Got Rhythm", "Naughty Baby" overflow with wit and imagination.
This kind of dancing is much more complex and ambitious than what was actually performed by the decorative chorus lines in the kind of 1930's stage show that is "Crazy For You" 's model. If the Broadway choreography were simplified for community theatre, it would make sense and be true to the period. But Dana Leigh Jackson , who was dance captain for the Broadway "Crazy", has managed to fit the spectacular Stroman choreography on to the bodies of the Reagle amateurs. Somehow, the knowledge that these prodigious feats are being performed by an attorney, a doctor, a real estate agent, and a third grade teacher, transforms them from simple entertainment into a kind of triumph of the human spirit. That's why I joined the audience of fellow citizens and friends of the cast in applauding until my hands were sore.
1998: Choreography this time is in the capable hands of Jennifer Turey, who also plays Peggy the chorus girl. Turey was dance captain and swing for the european tour of "Crazy". There are minor differences in steps and floor patterns between Turrey's version and Jackson's, but the effect is the same: tears of pure happiness went rolling down my cheeks. It's definately time for the Reagle audience to expand beyond family and friends. Every performance should be SRO-- what's the matter with you Walthamites? Some of you are reluctant to pony up twenty five bucks? Believe me: it's a good investment. You'll have to restain yourself from dancing in the aisles. Every time you think back and remember this show, you'll smile.
1996: The Broadway ringers that director Bob Eagle imported to play the leads are excellent. Dean Stroop's performance as Bobby is full of tiny acting touches both comic and sympathetic, and when he is paired with the Bela Zangler of Scott Willis for the "mirror" routine in the second act -- which goes on so long it passes from the amusing through the tedious to the surreal-- the doubling of detail and precision is a treat. Karen Culp as spunky Polly Baker displays -- along with a rich and expressive singing voice -- an awkward grace that segues into Ginger Rogers elegance as Polly is swept off her feet and in to love on the dance floor. Wendy Waring does the aggressive vamp Irene about as well as she ought to be done, tying herself and John Hillner's Lank Hawkins into knots of comic sadomasochism in "Naughty Baby".
1998: Stroop's dancing seems to have lost a little of its bounce--
could it be he's trying to get a few extra pounds off the ground in his
leaps?-- but Stroop's acting generally and his physical comedy in particular
are even better than before. Clup, too, has added sparkle
along with increased athleticism. Waring and Hillner have been
replaced by Juliet Ewing and Darren Kelly as Irene and Lank.
This pair of pros is deft and clean, maybe more in tune with the rest of
the PG go-ings on than the previous villains. But I must admit that
I preferred the perverse thrills of the Waring/Hillner staging of "Naughty
1996:The unpaid Reagle regulars prove every bit as good as the pros. R. Glen Michell , in a featured chorus role, makes his awkward big-hearted Moose a success in a way that is totally different from the slick vaudevillian Bert Healy he contributed to last month's "Annie". Ellen Peterson's Tess is a gem, a diamond in the rough whose earthy delivery grounds every scene. When Peterson's sturdy Tess is teamed up for a tap number in the second act with the willowy Becky Downing , who is repeating the role of Patsy that she played on Broadway, it is amazing to see the results of identical dance moves on such contrasting body types-- but both women look great. John Marshall and Aurelie Allegretto are The Foders, Britishers touring the American West to research their guidebook, and they sparkle in "Stiff Upper Lip".
1988: Mia Price from "Crazy"'s european tour is in for Downing as Patsy, and she's cute as the proverbial button. The Reagle regulars are back, and doing themsleves proud once more. Reagle has manged to fix the sound system, at last! Technically much improved from 1996, "Biding My Time" and all the other group numbers were balanced and bright, really showing off the vocal quality and comic timing of the supporting players. Apparently some Reagle choristers were adding depth to the dancing chorus' vocals from behind the scenes, too, but it the sound was so well integrated that the only way to tell this was by reading the program. Good job, techies.
1996: From beginning to Finale, the Reagle "Crazy For You" is a celebration of Broadway as the heart of America, and a cause for celebration: demonstrating that that Tin Pan Alley heart can be transplanted into ordinary bodies, which soar like angels on the wings of Gershwin song.
1998: Hallelujah, amen!