Crazy for You at Theatre Three Takes Some Nutty Missteps
Here's how lack of attention to detail sucks the funny out of a big musical comedy like Crazy for You, the show packed with Gershwin songs and wedged uncomfortably into Theatre Three. In a scene in the second act, two female characters meet for the first time. They are rivals for the affections of the same man. They hate each other on sight. One's a haughty 1930s New York debutante named Irene (played by Julie Mayer); the other's a sassy tomboy named Polly (Emily Lockhart).
"I suppose you just had your coming-out party," the society girl says with a sneer. Answers Polly: "I never even knew what a coming-out party was until I saw that dress of yours."
The built-in joke hinges, of course, on "coming-out party." Imagine the debutante's cleavage spilling out of the top end of a too-tight frock, and Polly drawing the audience's eyes right to it. It's a cheap laugh, but Crazy for You is nothing but cheap, silly laughs, some of which the actors onstage at Theatre Three sell just fine. But many other surefire bits, including "coming-out party," get crickets where there ought to be chuckles. Look, if there's any joke that shouldn't fall flat, it's a joke about big tits.
In the Theatre Three production directed by Michael Serrecchia, there's only one reason the "coming out" line fails and it's not the actresses' fault. It's costume designer Michael Robinson's. Instead of revealing some creamy boobage, the "coming out" dress he has Irene wearing looks as if it's coming from a funeral procession on Walton's Mountain. Dark blue with a low hem and a high neck, it's not glamorous or debutante-y, just sister-wife hideous. Sad little Irene looks dumpy and wan, poor thing. The actress' dark hair hangs limply past her shoulders, except for a little mess of bobby pins at the sides. And if she's wearing any makeup, it's not enough to be visible from row F, where I sat at the Saturday preview. She sure doesn't come off as a highfalutin cosmopolitan snob.
Maybe Robinson didn't know that a sexier gown was needed in this scene, one that wouldn't be a joke killer. Maybe director Serrecchia didn't have time to fix what is one little misstep in a production riddled with larger ones. But it's all right there on the page, spelled out for costumer, director, actors and audience by book writer Ken Ludwig, who concocted two and a half hours of fizz around a bunch of dumb gags, Gershwin tunes and the loosest possible adaptation of the 1930 musical Girl Crazy. Why do it if you're not going to do it right?
One missed punch line doesn't necessarily ruin a whole evening, but T3's Crazy for You is nutty with other bad decisions, including the casting of young Equity actor Sam Beasley in the lead. He plays Bobby Child, a spoiled Manhattan banker who dreams of dancing on the Broadway stage. Bobby's got rhythm, a tux and an overbearing mother, played by the marvelous Terry McCracken, Dallas theater's own Dowager Countess of comedy. She has other ideas. Mama throws him on a train to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a derelict vaudeville house run by rough-and-tough Polly and her kindly old coot of a father (Dan Nolen Jr.).
The story from there is an old-fashioned froth of overlapping love triangles, mistaken identities and a "let's put on the show" subplot that lets Bobby fulfill his desire for stardom. If, that is, he can convince plucky Polly, the only woman in Deadrock, to fall into his arms.
To woo her, Bobby must masquerade as tyrannical Broadway producer Bela Zangler. Then the real Zangler (Brian Hathaway) shows up — for no logical reason whatsoever — and goes gaga for one of the leggy chorines (Kelly McCain). And why are there beautiful showgirls way out West? They're on vacation from the Zangler Follies and eager to tap their troubles away to save Polly's theater. (Among the "Follies girls," Whitney Hennen is the standout singer and dancer.)
Tap-dancing talent is essential for everybody crowded onto T3's in-the-round acting space for Crazy for You. Young Beasley, making his debut with this company, can shuffle-ball-change from here to yonder. When he's dancing, he's a little bit dreamy, in a thin-lipped Bieberian way. When he's not dancing, he struggles, never more so than when trying to sing Gershwin melodies written for a baritone. Beasley's a tenor and he grows breathless trying to reach down to notes far below his range.
This leading man also has not a whisper of chemistry with his leading lady. Emily Lockhart, a veteran of shows on the Disney Cruise Line, sings in a Minnie Mouse trill (though she does push out a strong belt on the torchy "Someone to Watch over Me"). Lockhart, a tiny thing, is another victim of costume sabotage, weighed down by a curly red wig so enormous that from some angles, all that's visible of her head is wig and chin. Imagine Fannie Flagg romancing a rather delicate ninth-grader in a community theater Tea and Sympathy: That's the icky vibe between this Polly and Bobby. (When they finally kissed, my eyes rolled so far back, I think I left mascara smudges on the back wall.)
There is one genuinely adorable and hilarious number in this production. The real Bela gets tipsy in a saloon with Bobby-as-Bela, and they sing and dance a comic duet to the up-tempo ditty "What Causes That." Brian Hathaway, who's starred in better shows at Lyric Stage and Uptown Players (he was Leo Bloom in The Producers there), nails every joke, sings with a kooky Russian accent but makes every word audible, tap dances his buns off with a chair on his head and generally gives the hapless Beasley a master class in how musical comedy is done by a real professional. When Hathaway leaves the stage to rousing applause, the kid's tasting his dust.
In the quality of its recent shows, Theatre Three has had more ups and downs than a trampoline park. They can go from the rollicking weirdness of the rock musical Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson to the tight, expertly acted little drama Freud's Last Session, and then blow their streak with a miscast mishmash like Crazy for You. Big musicals get the cramps jammed into the little playhouse in the Quadrangle. They have to stick the five-piece band so far backstage it sounds as if they're playing from the parking lot. Even miked, the singers are hard to hear as they do endless circles to hit all four sides of the house.
When frumpily clad Irene jumps onto the back of one of the men in the Deadrock bar and rides him as he crawls across the floor, it's symbolic of how this show feels to the viewer. They're all on top of one another on that stage, fighting for a few inches of space to dance on without tripping, gouging out somebody's eye or stomping a foot — and that includes all the sleepy pensioners seated on the front rows.
Crazy for You. Us. Them. Everybody.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Dallas and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.