Asolo Rep goes ‘Crazy’ for Gershwin and tap dancing to open 65th season

With the timeless music of George and Ira Gershwin providing a rhythmic and melodic backdrop, Asolo Repertory Theatre taps its way into its 65th season with an exciting and funny production of “Crazy For You,” which also offers a bright start to the tenure of new Producing Artistic Director Peter Rothstein.

The production staged by Denis Jones sometimes seems to float on air with music and dance that grows out of Ken Ludwig’s comedic story of mixed-up relationships. It’s about a dance-loving banker who discovers romance when he’s sent by his domineering mother to foreclose on an old theater in the once-vibrant mining town of Deadrock, Nevada. Instead of taking it over, Bobby says “let’s put on a show” to save the place. In Ludwig’s script filled with clever word play, you laugh along even when you know the punchlines before they are spoken.

Dance is the show’s calling card, with thrilling tap sequences, like “I Got Rhythm,” in which everything from plungers, jugs, shovels and saws provides a beat and inspiration for new steps for the cast. But there also are elegant ballroom sequences and quieter moments when the main characters have a chance to express their confused longings.

Rather than mimic the original brilliant choreography by Susan Stroman, Jones creates his own framework toward ingenuity and excitement.

The vibrant cast gets an extra lift from a 10-member orchestra led by musical director Angela Steiner that makes the songs take flight, just like Adam Koch’s sets which glide and turn around the performers, as if doing their own kind of dance. His sets, beautifully lit by Jason Lyons, reveal both the streets of New York during the Depression and the wooden and fading exteriors of Deadrock. When the cobwebs are wiped away from the endangered theater, audience members sees a replica of the Asolo Rep’s Mertz Theatre gloriously reflected back at them.

But the design star is the late Eduardo Sicangco, whose imaginative, eye-popping costumes bring explosions of color and fancy while evoking the spirit of a Broadway follies show and the earthier lives of the people of Deadrock. There are elaborate shooting star headpieces and lots of frilly and feathery outfits for the chorus girls. Sicangco primarily designed the show before his death in October, assisted by Asolo Rep’s David Covach.

A lively cast

Jones has assembled a diverse cast who reveal a wide range of talents. The cowboys thankfully look more like average Joes (who can really move) than stereotypical chorus boys, while the chorus girls convey all the glamor and spirit audiences expect.

The cast is led by the engaging Daniel Plimpton as Bobby Child, who finds his opportunity to dance in Deadrock, where he falls in love with the theater’s owner, Polly Baker, the only woman in town. The nimble Plimpton is not your typical leading man with a slightly goofball style and a mix of charm and nervous awkwardness.

He is wonderfully partnered with Sarah Esty, a former Miami City Ballet soloist who is the picture of a tomboy as Polly. They have instant chemistry dampened only when Polly realizes that Bobby is the man threatening her theater. You expect Esty to be able to move beautifully, which she does, but she also has a voice full of heart and soul that captures the emotions of such standards as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not For Me.”

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Plimpton spends about half the evening impersonating Broadway impresario Bela Zangler, to further impress Polly, but his plan goes awry when the real Zangler (a terrific Danny Gardner) shows up to whip the Deadrock show into shape. Plimpton and Gardner, dressed alike, have a fun duet to “What Causes That?” in which they mirror each other’s drunken moves.

The cast also includes fine performances from Candice Hatakeyama as the obnoxiously wealthy Irene Roth, Bobby’s assumed fiancée, who finds a new life in Deadrock, Barrett Riggins as the saloon and hotel owner Lank Hawkins, who wants to take over the theater himself, and Madeleine Doherty as Bobby’s mother, Lottie, who trades insults and quips with aplomb. She also plays the future travel guide writer Patricia Fodor.

All the designs and performers work seamlessly together, reminding you (or introducing you to) the glories of the Gershwin songs, and sending you out feeling rejuvenated and anticipating a new season of theater.

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