Crazy For You: A Theatrical Review
George and Ira Gershwin’s timeless romantic musical has made its way back to the stage. A fantastic example of stunning choreography by Krystal Jasmin Combs, this fun loving and old world simplistic romance story is a pleasure to behold.
It has been said that there are many ways to interpret modern theater. It has proven to be true, and many individuals who seek out the guidance and wisdom of various theater critics have come to realize that most critics have their own personal bias and or bent on the way in which they review a show. Many, those of whom should never be involved with the creation of a production themselves; often find it easy to criticize a production for the key elements that they personally see as glaringly obvious. Yet, all too often, they miss the importance and value in a production that must be highlighted with the responsibility of guidance to the theater viewer. I would like to hope that I am not this kind of a critic. Having been in the world of theater at every possible level for nearly forty years now, I attempt to see the positive, guide the theater and its staff of the faulty, and advise my readers on which shows most deserve their hard earned finances.
To that end, I would like to start by highlighting the positives of this production. The most obvious of which is that this is a classic piece of theatrical history. It is a phenomenal production that will continue to come back again and again as it has become so very well loved. George and Ira Gershwin understood that when writing a production, they had to find a way to connect to the inner thoughts and feelings of their audience and help them to see that there is still hope left, regardless of the walls that seem to be going up all around them. Bravo! I would also like to state that it is because of productions like this one that we the term ‘triple-threat’. For those not involved with the theater on a regular basis, this term means that a performer is equally proficient at singing, dancing, and acting. It is the crucial triad that builds true performance ability and should be highlighted in every performer who possesses this ability. In this production, the stand out ‘triple-threat’ performer is Steve Weber, portraying Sam. Why he was not cast as the lead for this production is beyond my understanding, as I believe the entirety of the production would be more successful and enjoyable to the audience if he were. Regardless, this young man has a wonderful vocal ability, sound acting ability, and was as good if not better a dancer as anyone on the stage with him.
Another stand out performance, which I believe should have been utilized better than she was, is Ellen Cherry O’Donnell as Patsy. Truly a far better choice for the lead female, this young woman was placed in a chorus position where she was not fully able to show her abilities or talents. What a shame. I would also like to mention superior performances by Jack Robert Riordan, Michelle Akeley as Tess, and Holly Childers as Mitzi. Each of these young performers deserved the opportunity to shine in a way that they were not afforded in this particular production. Let me also say to my readers that I do not know any of these performers personally, have not (yet at least) had the pleasure of directing them in any of my productions, and have no vested interest in making these statements, other than to do my job as a capable and experienced theatrical critic for you my readers.
It is glaringly obvious to a seasoned director and producer, such as me, when a production has been chosen, cast, and or designed to highlight specific individuals, regardless if they are the best persons for the position. This is a massive and unacceptable travesty in the world of theater, and generally the reason why a show does succeeds in being all that it can be. In this production, though well done – please do not think that I am saying it was not a good show … it simply should have been better – this error is glaring. Any time a production has one or two major powerhouse leaders who focus on what is important to them and not on the entirety of the program, minor things begin to slip, and the production as a whole falters. As it has been stated time and again, the Devil is in the details.
Directed, Musically Directed, and Costume Design by Anne Gesling, this production of Crazy for You is quite good, but only quite good. The female lead Krystal Jasmin Combs serves as the company Choreographer and this is where her true talent shines. As a major dance production, this show is fantastic. As an overall production, there are many things lacking. Poor choices for leading characters – none of which did a bad job, all performers in this production are talented and should be appreciated for their overwhelming dedication and determination to give the best that they had to offer – hurt the productions believability. I felt almost as though I was observing Reba McIntyre and Tommy Tune attempt to show me a romance that never seemed viable, believable, or acceptable. The vocals were often questionable to flat out bad. The acting was an afterthought more often than not. This production was obviously cast and focused on the dance, and as a dance production, it was great. The problem here is that this is not a dance show. It is a romantic musical that by necessity includes a great deal of dance. If the two leading characters do not fit the bill for the acting, vocal, and visual mandates of the production, it will never matter how well they can dance, the show simply does not work.
I had some major concerns with costume issues; there is a mirror scene in the second act where the leading man and the character he is impersonating are supposed to mirror one another in a way that seems believable and almost mesmerizing to the audience. This scene did not work, not only was there a great deal of additional work that needs to be done to perfect the mirroring aspect, but for one of the performers to where a ring when the other does not, or one of the performers to have the purchase stitches on his jacket glaring at the audience and the other not to have this is a detail that distracts from the purpose of the scene, and destroys the joy of it for the audience as a whole. I also found myself wondering why the leading lady would wear a Bell dress from the production of “Beauty and the Beast” in the closing act. That is until I heard another audience member next to me complain out loud during the scene saying, “She wears that same God awful dress in every production she does”. I had a few concerns with the sets; while wonderfully designed by Thomas A. Brown, and handled well by the cast for the multiple scene changes involved, there are some scenes where performers are required to depend on the set pieces to support their weight in the midst of staging, and it is clear that the set was not designed to do this. This means that either the set designer must make up for poor arrangements by the staging director, or the staging director needs to change the staging. Otherwise, someone is going to be seriously hurt. Finally, outside of some persons that needed a great deal more work – even though it was opening night and I respect this fact – I had some concerns with casting. It is unfair to the viewing public, or the performers who really fit the bill of a role, to allow a casting director (not even mentioned in the playbill) to cast their preferred persons for roles that would be best cast by others in the group who obviously have been allowed to enter this persons world of self-glorification to make them seem like they know what they are doing when they truly do not.
Alright, for those who have worked with me as a director or producer in the past, you fully understand where I am coming from. For those who have not, I am certain that you feel that I am being far too picky. Please understand that I am passionate about the theater. I believe that there is no room for self-glorification, and that it is never acceptable to overlook glaring issues that distract the audience from the power of the story. (See my personal by line for specifics “True theater should lift you to the heavens, carry you to the depths, and change your perspective of the world around you as a result of the journey.”)
This production on the whole is well done. The problems are glaring to the discerning eye, but to the average theater attendee, this is a more than acceptable version of the production. It is a night of true enjoyment for those who love dance shows. (Not so much for those who have a passion for great vocals and or acting.) Should you desire to see this production while it is running at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre located at 2627 Pico Blvd in Santa Monica, CA 90405, you can do so through Saturday August 4, 2012. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8PM and Sunday afternoons at 2PM. Admission is an acceptable $25 per person, with students and seniors with identification priced at $20 per person. Make your reservations by calling 310-828-7519, or logging onto the internet at www.morgan-wixson.org. Enjoy!
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