Novices and veterans come together to put on one ‘Crazy’ show
Jul 30, 2019 04:45PM
● By Alison Brimley
The cast performs one of the many ensemble numbers in “Crazy for You.”
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]com
Pass by the outside of Midvale’s Performing Arts Center, built in the 1930s, and you might first notice its distinctive art deco style. From July 11-22, this theater served as an apt venue for another 1930s artifact— Sugar Factory Playhouse’s production of the Gershwin-inspired musical “Crazy for You.”
Many songs in “Crazy for You,” you might already know by heart—standards like “Embraceable You,” “Someone to Watch over Me” and “I’ve Got Rhythm.” First produced on Broadway in the 1990s, “Crazy for You” takes its music from the famous jazz-era tunes of George and Ira Gershwin, weaving them into a romantic plot that borrows elements from screwball comedy of the ’30s and ’40s.
New Yorker and aspiring dancer Bobby Child (Daniel Fifield) is ordered by his banker mother to travel to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a theater, but ends up falling in love with the theater owner’s daughter, Polly (Kimberlee Robbins). What follows is a madcap story of mistaken identities, misunderstandings and lots of tap dancing.
The inside of Midvale’s Performing Arts Center feels surprisingly snug: only six rows of seats sit before the stage, with a few rows of temporary seating behind that. “Most places I’ve performed at aren’t this intimate,” said Robbins, who returned to the stage for the first time following the birth of twins last year. Robbins has performed all over the world, but said “there’s something special about being able to do a show…where the audience feels more a part of [it].”
Music director Jared Campbell said one difficulty of this production was putting together the many group numbers. The rigorous musical style and multiplying harmonies posed a challenge to the cast, composed of veterans and newcomers alike. But, said Campbell, “this cast really stepped up to the challenge.” He established strict expectations, but received “no backlash. They’re all just very respectful.”
Cast member Austin Bunkall was one such newcomer. With no acting experience under his belt, he was surprised to be cast in the role of the main villain, Lank Hawkins. Embracing his inner villain hasn’t been easy, but Bunkall said of his first onstage experience, “It’s been incredible, and I’ve loved it.”
Watching the cast interact offstage, you get the sense that their relationships extend far beyond the performance. Before a dress rehearsal, two real-life sisters who play New York showgirls tried on their character’s blonde wigs, jokingly asked a member of the production staff, “Do we look like our mom?” “Yes,” came the response, “she was that blonde in high school.” One might even be tempted to accuse Campbell of favoritism for casting his own dog, Miss Fanjie, as the show’s only canine character. Many in the cast, including Bunkall and Robbins, auditioned for the production in the first place because a friend who was already involved encouraged them to join.
But rest assured, if friendships got these actors to their auditions, it didn’t stand in for talent. The skill of this cast leaves little to be desired, particularly when it comes to leads Robbins and Fifield. Whether singing or dancing, both are a pleasure to watch on stage, and Fifield’s high-pitched, old-time New York accent lends an endearing quality to a character that might be otherwise hard to like. And the women who play showgirls frequently chime in with The Andrews Sisters-style harmonies that don’t miss a note.
Though this story is zany on the surface, the actors have connected with the underlying themes that make it a story worth telling. As Robbins put it, the appeal of the show is that “it talks about things in a humorous way that people don’t like talking about. The decisions that Polly and Bobby have to make, no one wants to talk about those life decisions. It’s so nice to be able to share those vulnerable moments with people.”