“I've just got a feeling, tonight's the night!"
Much of the attention on London fringe musicals goes to the pocket powerhouses
south of the river like the Union and the Landor but some of the most exciting
productions are to be found above a pub in Highgate. Under John and Katie
Plews’ artistic directorship, they have regularly secured the rights to host
the first London fringe productions of such massive shows like Buddy and Guys and Dolls and have done so to great acclaim. And they’ve done it once again by
putting on the fringe premiere of Gershwin songbook musical Crazy For You, last
seen here at the Open Air Theatre and then the West End.
Although based on the Gershwin production Girl Crazy, this is a relatively new
show that was reconceived to feature more gems from the Gershwin back catalogue.
Ken Ludwig’s book is a frothily light thing, a boy and a girl from different
worlds fall for each other even though his family bank is about to close down
her family business, including a theatre, and the only way to save the day and
any chance of love is to put on a show. It’s silly but charming, wit and warmth
are the order of the day and John Plews’ production never loses sight of that.
Jay Rincon (recently a ghostly presence in Steel Pier
) is excellent as Bobby
Childs, who has to carry much of the show on his lithe shoulders. He brings a
gorgeously endearing goofy charm to his leading man which really opens up the
heart of the show and he’s thoroughly engaging throughout. Ceili O’Connor’s
Polly doesn’t quite have the same breadth of geniality though meaning their
relationship never quite catches fire as it ought, O’Connor could afford to
bring in a greater note of sweetness to her portrayal to balance the
But the pair sound great together and dance beautifully. Grant Murphy’s
choreography really is superb from start to finish, pushing at the boundaries
of what an ensemble of 12 can do on a narrow traverse stage with a
breath-taking verve – the act one closer of I Got Rhythm has to be seen to be
believed – and a clever mix of classic and contemporary moves ensuring it feels
period-appropriate yet simultaneously fresh. He’s alive to the opportunities of
working in such an intimate space and frequently highlights the percussive
musicality of tap-dancing to great effect.
And the ensemble around the leads are huge amounts of fun. Plews’ idea of two
trios split by gender works wonderfully: Sara Morley, Georgie Burdett and Becky
Bassett make a vivacious set of showgirls and Ricky Morrell, Simon Ouldred and Tom
Pepper an appealing group of cowpokes and both serve the production well in
terms of the heavy lifting of the set changes and also dancing up a storm.
Natalie Lipin is excellent as Irene, the it girl who is mellowed out by country
living and James Wolstenholme’s Lank and Anthony Williamson and Tamsin Dowsett shine
as a double double act, Dowsett particularly impressing as an actress of
considerable convincing range.
So whilst the story may be a little light, there is nothing but fierce
commitment on the stage of the Gatehouse and it makes for great uplifting
viewing. And to the music of some of the greatest songs ever written – played excellently
by Oliver-John Ruthven’s band – you’d be crazy to miss out on this show.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 27th January 2013
Labels: Anthony Williamson, Becky Bassett, Ceili O’Connor, Georgie Burdett, James Doughty, James Wolstenholme, Jay Rincon, Natalie Lipin, Ricky Morrell, Sara Morley, Simon Ouldred, Tamsin Dowsett, Tom Pepper