Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Crazy for You
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent reviews of Stones in His Pockets, Handprints, The Elixir of Love, Dial M for Murder

The Cast
Photo by Sam Lavine
It is too easy a line to come up with, but I will use it anyway: I am crazy for Artistry's production of Crazy for You. Want a reason? I can give you four. First, the score comprises songs by George and Ira Gershwin, with treasures like "Shall We Dance?," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "But Not for Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and more, with a guaranteed showstopper in "I Got Rhythm." Second, it has the best choreography (by Elly Stahlke and Kyle Weiler) and dancing by the entire cast that I have seen in a regional production in years. And third, there is dazzling singing, dancing and acting by Kyle Weiler in the lead role.

Last but in no way least, the rapturous music is performed by a superb twenty-one-piece orchestra conducted by the incomparable Anita Ruth, returning to Artistry where she served for seventeen years as resident music director–that, on top of thirteen years as music director at Children's Theatre Company, on top of twenty years in the same role at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. The lady is a genuine legend and her return couldn't be more welcome. Actually, just to hear the orchestra play that Gershwin score under Ruth's direction is reason enough to head to Artistry's Schneider Theatre.

This is a semi-staged production with an emphasis placed on the music. Concert stagings like this are especially valuable when considering musicals that have a dated or sub-par book, but scores that are worth remembering. You can't get any more worth revisiting than a collection of Gershwin songs. The orchestra is expanded and placed on stage, with the entire cast seated in front, rising when they have a scene to play or are part of the singing or dancing ensemble. There is only the barest bones of a set and, and costumes that consist primarily of black tops and bottoms, with white shirts for a few of the men, and some western-style embroidery on the leading ladies' shirts. However, lighting and sound are important elements, with Grant E. Merges (lighting) and Collin Sherraden (sound) doing fine work.

Crazy for You was initially conceived as an updated rendition of the Gershwins' 1930 smash (by 1930s standards) Girl Crazy. Playwright Ken Ludwig, whose first play, the comedy Lend Me a Tenor, had recently been a big hit, was recruited to update Guy Bolton and John McGowan's creaky Girl Crazy book. In due time, Ludwig ended up writing a completely new book, keeping only a few components of Girl Crazy: having its primary setting be in the rural western U.S.; having the leading man be a scion of wealth expected to tow the family line who dreams of a more adventurous life; and having the leading lady be a small-town postmistress with a cowgirl's temperament. Only six of Girl Crazy's songs were used, but Crazy for You was fleshed out with songs from other Gershwin shows and movies.

In Crazy for You, that scion of wealth is Bobby Child. Bobby's imperious mother expects him to assume the mantle of the family's banking business, but all Bobby wants to do is dance on stage. He even convinces impresario Bela Zangler to give him an audition, but in spite of Bobby's swell dancing, he manages to infuriate Zangler. To get Bobby to focus on business–and away from his viperous fiancée, Irene–Bobby's mother dispatches him to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a theater deep in arrears.

The theater's owner is Everett Baker, and his daughter Polly is the local postmistress–and the only female remaining in Deadrock, once a prosperous mining town but now a near ghost town with a just a few cowpokes hanging on. They learn that a man is coming out from the bank in New York to foreclose on their beloved theater and are ready to do battle with him, but the moment Bobby and Polly spot each other it's–can you guess?–love at first sight. Naturally, there are complications, such as heroic efforts to save the theater (does "Hey gang, let's put on a show!" sound familiar?), a local saloon owner, Lank, who covets both the theater property and Polly, Irene's arrival in Deadrock looking for Bobby, confusion that ensues when Bela Zangler shows up in town, and the unexpected arrival of Eugene and Patricia Fodor to review Lank's saloon and hotel for their latest work, a Fodor travel guide to the American West. It's all in good fun, all fizzy and ludicrous, and packed by Ludwig with jokes, making it not only one of the most tuneful, but also one of the funniest shows you are likely to come across.

Ben Bakken's direction reveals a love for the material, the music, and the moves. Bakken has proved himself a talented dancer on stage, and he allows his choreographers, Stahlke and Weiler, both of whom appear in the show, a wide berth to make dance a focal point, second only to the soaring music coming from the orchestra. The book scenes will always play second fiddle in Crazy for You, but Bakken gives them the care they deserve so that the cavalcade of jokes and occasional genuine emotion come through.

Kyle Weiler was seen doing good work in last season's Hello, Dolly! and Next to Normal, both at Latté Da, but nothing that compares with his triple threat performance in Crazy for You. Weiler sings like a born crooner, acts with aplomb, and his dancing–to quote from a Gershwin song that isn't used in the show–"'S Wonderful." He kicks off the show's high energy with the opening "K-ra-zy for You," quickly followed by another, "I Can't Be Bothered Now," putting the show in high gear from which it never downshifts. His dance solo in "Nice Work if You Can Get It" is the cherry on a cake already dripping with icing.

Annika Isbell is swell as Polly Baker, the leading lady role. She too dances beautifully and acts with gusto, with Polly's emotions ranging from tough-gal ready for a fight to a love-sick innocent. Isbell has a lovely voice but at times had trouble with the pitch, particularly in high notes, at the performance I attended, but she gets the songs across–particularly the torchy "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "But Not for Me"–with heartfelt emotion. Isbell and Weiler have a chemistry that makes the story's romance feel plausible, brought to delightful life in "Shall We Dance?"

Other standout performances among an overall strong cast come from Charlie Clark as Bela Zangler, Dale Theisen as Tess, Jaclyn McDonald as Irene Roth, and Carl Swanson as Lank Hawkins. Clark and McDonald bring comic flare to "Naughty Baby." Clark, as Bela Zangler, and Weiler, who is impersonating Zangler as part of his bid to win over the girl, roll out a comical mirror-image routine with superb timing in "What Causes That?"

Knowing that Artistry is rebuilding after being near a financial cliff a year ago, when they announced the "concert style" staging of Crazy for You I figured, well they can't be faulted for putting on a "small" show while they get back on their feet. However, I can assure you that this Crazy for You feels anything but small, not with that wonderful orchestra on stage and with the abundance of talent and high energy put forth by the entire cast. I'd call it a first-class winner.

Crazy for You runs through February 11, 2024, at Artistry, Bloomington Center for the Arts, 1800 West Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington MN. For tickets and information, please call 952-563-8375 or visit

Music and Lyrics: George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin; Book: Ken Ludwig; Co-conception: Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent, inspired by material by Guy Bolton and John McGowan; Directors: Ben Bakken; Music Director and Conductor: Anita Ruth; Choreography: Elly Stahlke and Kyle Weiler; Costume Consultant: Britt Hilton; Lighting Design: Grant E. Merges; Sound Design: Collin Sherraden; Production Manager and Props Design: Katie Phillips; Technical Director: Will Rafferty; Stage Manager: Samantha Smith; Assistant Stage Manager: Will Rafferty.

Cast: Charlie Clark (Bela Zangler/ensemble), Jonah Hale (Moose/ensemble), Annika Isbell (Polly Baker/ensemble), Jaclyn McDonald (Irene Roth/ensemble), Marley Ritchie (Patsy/ensemble), France Roberts (Everett Baker/Eugune Fodor/ensemble), Chris Sanchez (Custus/ensemble), Elly Stahlke (Mitzi/ensemble), Carl Swanson (Lank Hawkins/ensemble), Dayle Theisen (Tess/ensemble), Therese Walth (Lottie Childs/Patricia Fodor/ensemble), Kyle Weiler (Bobby Child).