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Crazy For You at Chichester Festival Theatre

When Bobby Child (Charlie Stemp) turns up in Deadrock, Nevada – a fictional town (yes, I had the naivety to look it up) – he’s desperate for some water: it’s inadvertently relatable in a heatwave, even in the wonderfully air-conditioned Chichester Festival Theatre. Crazy For You is far more about song and dance than it is about the storyline, but there’s something rather topical about a theatre that has fallen on hard times that is eventually saved through philanthropy and without an iota of government support.

Crazy For You -Photographer Johan Persson.
Crazy For You -Photographer Johan Persson.

This isn’t Stemp’s first return to Chichester after his much acclaimed leading performance in a revised version of Half A Sixpence in 2016 – a touring production of the Tom Stoppard play Rough Crossing came to the Festival Theatre in 2019 – but it’s difficult not to think back to ‘Sixpence’ when watching him bounce and spin around the stage at such high speed. He may not have impressed Bela Zangler (Tom Edden), a theatre director, producer and proprietor (and apparently a Hungarian) with his skills, but the audience was more than sufficiently wowed by them.

The punchlines may be corny in places, though they are imaginative, boasting a wider vocabulary than the ‘eff, cee and effing cee’ dialogue that peppers more contemporary shows. The feeling of nostalgia is not universal, however – when Zangler indulges in inappropriate behaviour with female dancers in his company, it might as well have been something that happened well within living memory. Polly Baker (Carly Anderson), the town’s postwoman, amongst other things, isn’t the only one who looks a little too prim, proper and polished to be struggling to survive in a rural community at the height of the Great Depression.

It’s a negligible grumble in the grand scheme of things, when there are twenty-five musical numbers listed in the programme, some of which, like ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’, are very well-known. It’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ that ends the first half, sending the audience into the interval with a hugely feelgood extravaganza. In the second half, an encounter between Child and Zangler is as hilarious as it is sentimental, a remarkable display of sustained comic timing.

Alan Williams directs a seventeen-strong orchestra: I don’t really have much to say about them other than there was never a moment when they weren’t doing the Gershwin brothers’ score justice. In supporting roles, Gay Soper’s Lottie Child is fussy and overbearing as Bobby’s mother, striving for him to find a more stable career path than live entertainment. Bobby’s fiancée, Irene Roth (Merryl Ansah) proves to be more demanding, though even she is somewhat eclipsed by the burdens placed on hotelier Lank Hawkins (Mathew Craig) by tourists Eugene (Adrian Grove) and Patricia (Jacqui Dubois). There are layers of absurdity that pile on top of one another and build to quite a heart-warming finale.

There’s such an uplifting spirit to this production that even the theatre’s ushers, handing out flyers with details of forthcoming productions as the audience filed out, admitted that what is to follow at Chichester isn’t going to be as bright and blissful as this show. With (at the time of writing) political upheaval and a cost of living crisis, here comes an opportunity to indulge in some escapism and enjoy a fine musical comedy. There’s humour, great costumes, and fabulous song and dance: as one of the lyrics puts it, “Who could ask for anything more?

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Theatre-mad Bobby Child is torn between his show-business dreams and his rich, demanding New York fiancée and rich, demanding New York mother who want him to run the family bank. On his mother’s insistence, he reluctantly heads west for the bygone mining town of Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a mortgage.

There he finds the mortgage in question is on a dilapidated Victorian theatre and the owner’s daughter Polly is the girl of his dreams. Desperate to prove his good faith and win her love, Bobby lights on the idea of putting on a show – complete with glamorous dancers from New York’s Follies – to save the theatre and renew the town.

Music & Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig

Co-conception by Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent
Inspired by material by Guy Bolton and John McGowan

11 July – 4 September

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1 thought on “Crazy For You at Chichester Festival Theatre”

  1. Amazing night last night watching this brilliant show!!
    Well done to Charlie Stemp and all the fantastic cast, what an evening, fabulous!!!

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