Friday, August 21, 2009

REVIEW: Manatee Players' "Crazy For You" show-stopper

If Thursday's opening night
performance of "Crazy For You" is any indication of how the Manatee Players’ new season will be, then there’s much to look forward to.

Directed and choreographed by Rick Kerby, "Crazy For You" displays everything the community theater does best: well-crafted song and dance numbers, engaging acting, creative sets and amazing costumes oozing with razzle dazzle.

It’s easy to see why this 1992 George and Ira Gershwin hit won three Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical. The comedy is an endearing fun-filled production that keeps you in each moment through colorful characters and memorable songs.

In the play, well-to-do Bobby Child (Michael DeMocko) has a dream of performing on a New York stage, particularly for Bela Zangler and his group of vaudeville dancers. But his stern banker mom, Mrs. Child (portrayed with an adorable performance by Georgette Thomas), sends him on a mission to Deadrock, Nev., to foreclose on an ailing theater. This is where Bobby falls head-over-heels with the town’s only gal — strong -willed Polly Baker, played by Andrea Wright. Polly just happens to be the daughter of the theater’s owner. As Bobby tries to woo Polly, he decides to help get the theater on its feet again by producing a show. But he runs into a few complications that include a saloon/hotel owner wanting to expand onto the theater’s property, a town full of rough-behind-the-collar men and the hilarious love triangles that develop when Bobby’s New York world sets up shop in Deadrock.

DeMocko and Wright are cast perfectly for the lead roles. They balance their character’s tension and romance with the sarcasm and comedy that permeates the play. Not only can they act well, but they steal the show with their vocal and dancing efforts — as a couple and solo. DeMocko, in particular, has several nice tap dance numbers, while Wright’s soothing vocal ballads melt the audience.

But DeMocko and Wright are not the only stars here. "Crazy For You" is a show where every cast member has the opportunity to shine, because as the show progresses, so do the townspeople.

The company numbers with the cast are exceptional, particularly "Slap That Bass" and, perhaps the crowd favorite, "I Got Rhythm." Collectively the scenes all have plenty of pizazz, great vocals and clever choreography.

Other stellar moments include Juan Martinez’s roof tap dancing number, Kali Westphalen as Irene in the "Naughty Baby" number and the closing scenes. Kudos must be given to the live band and costume designer David W. Walker.

The only thing off in this production were a couple of gun shots. Seeing a person fall in a saloon "brawl" and then hearing the gun shot after the fact was a little odd. But in a comedic story line where things aren’t always as they seem, the instance worked with the audience, who grabbed a few extra laughs out of it.

After watching this wonderful family friendly production, though, one wonders how the Manatee Players will top it. The season has just begun.

In other news:

Before the show started Thursday evening, Manatee Players' board president Nina Richardson presented a plaque to the troupe's marketing manager Denny Miller, honoring him for his 10 years of service. But that's just one of many hats Miller has worn. In 27 years, he's been in roughly 60 shows at the theater.
- January Holmes

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