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’GOT RHYTHM’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Fred Astaire, watch out. Your reputation is on the line. Tony Montenieri is in town and the Heights Players have a hit.

The hit is "Crazy for You," and Montenieri plays banking heir Bobby Child in Ken Ludwig’s reworking of the Gershwin brothers’ musical, "Girl Crazy."

"Crazy for You" opened at the Shubert Theatre in February 1992 and ran for 1,622 performances before closing in March 1993. Before the final curtain fell, "Crazy for You" won three Tonys (musical, costume design and choreography), two Drama Desk Awards (musical and choreography), and five Outer Circle Critics Awards (Broadway musical, choreography, scenic design, costumes and lighting).

"Crazy for You" is limited to three weekends at the Heights Players, so you’d better hurry or you’ll miss a lively and lustrous tribute to the Gershwins.

Ed Healy directs a cast of 20 in this exuberant musical extravaganza. He is ably assisted by Anne Rebold, who plays keyboard and conducts the orchestra - Eric Kay on reeds, Donna Rossi on trumpet and Dave Birchard on percussion; Kathy Valentine, who staged the tap numbers; and Gina Healy, who staged additional musical numbers. Robert J. Weinstein has designed an unusually large number of very effective light cues.

Clearly, it’s not easy for a community theater to undertake a musical of this magnitude. The large-scale production numbers of "Crazy for You" have to be adapted to a small stage, and performers have to make audiences forget they ever heard these notable songs performed by the likes of Ethel Merman and Judy Garland. In this, Healy and his crew are remarkably successful.

The magnificent Montenieri plays opposite Kerry Ann Lambert, making a stunning Heights Players debut as Polly Baker, the pretty postmistress of Deadrock, Nev., who so beguiles Bobby that he forsakes his mission to foreclose on the decrepit Gaiety Theatre owned by her father, Everett Baker (the Ed Wynn-like Bill Wood) and instead put on his own follies to raise money to save the building.

Bobby’s task becomes more difficult when Polly discovers who he really is, so in desperation, he assumes the identity of the real impresario, Bella Zangler (the excellent Steve Velardi) for whom he has previously (unsuccessfully) auditioned with an impromptu dance number (the show-stopping "Krazy for You").

Ludwig’s play is filled with quick one-liners and quicker sight gags. But the show is really a vehicle for Gershwin’s spectacular music and the numbers they inspire - the rousing "Slap That Bass," the tender "Someone to Watch Over Me," and the slapstick "What Causes That?" in which Montenieri (the fake Zangler) joins Velardi (the real Zangler) in mirror image choreography.

Ludwig incorporated six songs from "Girl Crazy" ("Bidin’ My Time," "Could You Use Me?" "Embraceable You," "But Not for Me," "I Got Rhythm," and part of "Entrance to Nevada"). The rest of the songs come from Broadway shows like "Treasure Girl," "Oh! Kay," "Show Girls" and "Ladies First"; and Hollywood films like "Shall We Dance" and "Damsel in Distress." Just one song, "Naughty Baby," was written for neither stage nor screen.

This production is blessed with a particularly strong supporting cast. David Eason Smith is quite convincing as the crude and avaricious saloonkeeper Lank Hawkins. Albert Walsh is the perfect Englishman, Eugene Fodor. Kristiann Menotiades is delightful as Zangler’s flame, Tess. And Alex Gushwin is fresh and funny as the not-too-bright showgirl, Patsy.

Particular attention should be paid to Albert Walsh’s superb costumes - especially in dressing Bobby’s wannabe girlfriend, Irene Roth (Gina Healy), who sports a variety of slinky, sexy outfits that are skimpy in all the right places.

The Gershwins are ranked among the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated men to have ever plied their trade on, or off Broadway. They are the epitome of Tin Pan Alley style, yet they were born and raised in East New York. And to those who reside in this borough, they’re as Brooklyn as the Dodgers and egg creams.

George Gershwin, according to Merman (who made her Broadway debut as Frisco Kate in "Girl Crazy"), enjoyed sneaking into the pit during Wednesday matinees to play the piano part of "I Got Rhythm." He would most certainly have approved of this hometown rendition of so many of his most memorable songs.

 

The Heights Players production of "Crazy for You" runs through Oct. 19, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $15, $12 students and seniors. The Heights Players are located at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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