In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, I got a call from Daniel Evans, the Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre. He asked if I would be interested in directing and choreographing a production of Crazy for You.
I knew about Chichester Festival Theatre. People refer to Chichester as “magical”, with its Roman walls that surround the town, cobblestone streets, and an apparently savvy theatre-going audience. I asked myself, “Do I really need to do a production of a giant musical somewhere in the English countryside?” But as the pandemic raged on, New York City was still worse for wear with all its Broadway theaters closed. Like so many other artists, I wondered if I would ever work again. So I said, “Yes! Sign me up!” and off I went to the quaint town of Chichester, which was indeed magical – except for the fact there was no air conditioning!
Cut to July 19, 2022 and opening the show in Chichester to rave reviews. I LOVED Chichester! I adored working there and was so glad I had accepted Daniel’s offer. The charming town, the spirited staff, the enthusiastic audience — it was definitely theater heaven. The show was extremely popular with the Chichester audiences and by the end of the summer, it ended up Chichester Festival Theatre’s highest grossing show.
The show was picked up by the marvelous British producer Michael Harrison – who had produced the 2017 West End production of Young Frankenstein. On July 3, 2023 – less that 11 months after opening in Chichester – we were opening in London’s West End. I could not believe it. Thanks to that phone call from Daniel Evans, a big lavish production of Crazy for You was back on the West End. I will be forever grateful.
The American producers Joey Parnes and Sally Horchow joined Michael Harrison in transferring this revival to the West End. Sally’s father, the wonderful Roger Horchow, was the original producer of Crazy for You on Broadway, so it was a project close to her heart. I now had three producers who loved the show as much as I did.
It is very special to open a show in the West End. I felt blessed to be invited in by the British theater community. At this point in my life, I have been represented on the West End by Oklahoma!, Crazy for You, Contact, Show Boat, The Producers, The Scottsboro Boys and Young Frankenstein and I have been honored with two Olivier Awards. For me, London is a true second home.
Going into rehearsal for this new production of Crazy for You, I felt the pressure of succeeding on the West End, both for myself and also for the memory of Mike Ockrent. Mike, my late husband, was the original director of Crazy for You on Broadway some 30 years earlier and undertaking this new production weighed heavily on me. So heavily, in fact, that if someone could not pick up a dance step, I wanted to grab them by the lapels and shout, “Don’t you know what is riding on this?!” Of course, I did not do that. Instead I would smile and say, “Don’t worry, you’ll get it.”
I thought about Mike every day in rehearsal. When the audience roared at the comedy onstage, I thought I could hear his laugh amongst the crowd. After all this time I still thought of Mike at every turn. But even with this raw emotion churning inside me, remounting the show brought me great joy and happiness. Once we opened, my exuberance at having a hit show was accompanied by an almost nauseating relief. How I could be so happy and freakishly upset at the same time was a wonder. I suppose the intensity of opening a giant musical and Mike’s memory weighed on me more than I had realized.
Crazy for You is a joyous package of entertainment. It was comforting to know that 30 years later, the show could still make people laugh. It’s my belief that because we have have endured a global pandemic together, people now come to the theater desperate for entertainment, hoping to leave a show feeling lighter, easier, and with a spring in their step.
Our story begins in New York City in the 1930’s during the Great Depression. BOBBY CHILD (Charlie Stemp), the scion of a wealthy banking family, dreams of being in show business, but has yet to find his way after failing to impress the great Broadway impresario, BELA ZANGLER (Tom Edden). In efforts to get him to settle down and take over the family business, Bobby’s mother sends him out West to a rundown town called Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a dilapidated theater. Upon arrival, he falls instantly in love with the theater owner’s daughter, POLLY (Carly Anderson). Attempting to win Polly’s heart, Bobby comes up with an unusual plan to save the theater and bring the town back to life. Posing as Bela Zangler, Bobby sets about putting on a show. He sends for his friends in New York City, the Zangler Follies Dancers, and with their help he brings rhythm and energy to the town. It seems like his crazy plan will work until the real Bela comes to town. Comedy ensues with mistaken identities and star-crossed lovers.
We made many changes to this revival, tweaking the script to make it more agreeable to a contemporary audience, trimming the length, cutting large chunks out of dance numbers, losing old burlesque jokes. We enhanced one of the central themes of the show — the importance of art and culture to a town, how reviving a theater saves a town from collapse – which feels very relevant to where we are right now. That idea is evident all over America since the pandemic – a theater or a new museum can make a town spring back to life.
The cast in this West End revival is extraordinary, with three stunning lead actors — Charlie Stemp, Carly Anderson, and Tom Edden. They were a joy to create on — new choreography, new comic moments, new scenes. The stage is filled with true triple threats, all with impeccable comic timing. The company brought Deadrock, Nevada to life and made this revival their own – fresh, full of energy and passion. Each member of the company has a backstory for their character – how they ended up in Deadrock, how they relate to one another on stage. They all wrote essays about the lives of their characters and delivered those stories onstage.
I adore my associates, Angelique Ilo and Stacey Todd Holt — both were in the original Broadway production. We enjoyed many a laugh as the choreography poured out of us and filled our minds with funny memories of the original Broadway company.
This British company has a wonderful tradition of warming up together before every rehearsal and every show – a physical warm-up followed by a spirited vocal warm-up at half hour. Even the swings and standbys are involved so they are always ready to go on. I would love this practice to be introduced to Broadway companies. It is a way for the full company to come together and not only focus the body and mind, but also seize the opportunity to receive notes, celebrate individuals, hear announcements. On Broadway, it’s everyman for himself. Angelique, Stacey, and I are used to a couple of plies, two Advil, and out you go!
In this show, dance equals joy. It makes people feel happy. Crazy for You has many different dance forms – tap, jazz, ballet, ballroom. And one needs to be able to dance with props. Sometimes you can be the most talented dancer in the world, but it all falls apart when someone hands you a prop. Dancing with props comes easily to me because I was a baton twirler as a young girl — you can toss me anything fast and I can catch it. The props in Crazy for You come out of the story. The show takes place in an abandoned mining town, so there are pickaxes, ropes, mining pans, hammers, corrugated tin, etc. These props reinforce the characters’ stories and motivate the rhythm for many of the numbers.
The real unsung heroes for many dance-driven musicals are the dance arrangers. For Broadway’s Crazy for You, Peter Howard was the original dance arranger. He took beautiful Gershwin tunes and opened them up for dance. His work is highly admired by the current dance arrangers on Broadway. Sadly, the Broadway community lost the talented Peter Howard in 2008. For this revival of Crazy for You, the equally talented dance arranger David Krane joined us. David worked with me to once again open up the tunes for this new iteration of the show to now match and heighten the choreography. Charlie Stemp is an extraordinary dancer and a master at physical comedy. I was inspired by his abilities and created new movement for him. Pure magic poured out of David’s fingers and onto the keyboard to support Charlie’s new leaps, turns, and tap steps. Now when Charlie leaps in the air, so does the entire orchestra.
Charlie is blessed with the soul of a true vaudevillian. He understands physical comedy better than most actors. Not only is he a glorious dancer, but he has comedy in his bones. His fellow performer, Tom Edden, is equally funny. Tom and Charlie analyze each comic intention and treat every moment like art. I first saw Tom in One Man, Two Guvnors and remember his brilliant performance as a waiter continually doing hilarious pratfalls. When Tom asked me if he could do an extra pratfall in “What Causes That”, who was I to say no?! How lucky was I to work with two comic actors who love to fall down?
The scenic design by Beowulf Boritt is a glorious spectacle. He took a nod to the original design by Robin Wagner, but made it all his own. Beowulf’s respect for Robin is evident – he went so far as to put an old fashioned Wanted Poster of Robin in the saloon. Beowulf effortlessly transformed scenes from New York City to Nevada and made many a magical moment — from using a tumbleweed as a transition into Deadrock, to tap dancers pouring out of the proscenium. As lighting designer, Ken Billington did exceptional work, creating colorful sunsets, bass specials, and a shooting star. William Ivey Long – who won a Tony Award for his costume designs for the original production – was back on board and did a spectacular job. Seeing his Pueblo Deco dresses once again reminded me of his genius.
The idea that we were opening Crazy for You in the Gillian Lynne Theatre was so poignant to me. I loved that we were performing in a theater named after a woman and a choreographer — a first. Early in my career, Gillian reached out to me to make a fuss and share stories. Her success made me so happy. I think she would be delighted to have a big effervescent dance show in her theater.
Alongside the theme of art and culture bringing a town back to life, another theme of the show is, of course, romance. How much would you give up for someone you truly loved? The three leads exemplified that theme perfectly. There was a real chemistry between Charlie and Carly onstage. Carly’s Polly is the true heart of the show. Carly is funny and forceful, and her sweet melodic voice adds to the passion. And even though the comedy of Charlie’s Bobby and Tom’s Bela reigns supreme, both actors show a real vulnerability when professing their love to Polly and Tess respectively.
Crazy for You will always be the show I hold dearest to my heart. It was my first Broadway show as a choreographer, my first Tony Award, and it is where I met my husband, Mike Ockrent. Now, with years gone by, I have a clearer perspective on my relationship with Mike. We got married four years after Crazy for You opened on Broadway. Like Bobby, Mike gave it all up for me, moving from London to New York City. That is pure romance — art imitating life. For those of us who love musical theater, it’s a wonderful dream to live life inside a musical comedy — like an old MGM musical. My years with Mike certainly gave me that dream. “Nice Work if You Can Get It” is an understatement.
This revival of Crazy for You proved to be a smash hit. Opening night was glorious. British audiences never give out standing ovations at the end of Act One, but Crazy for You had them surging to their feet before they’d even had their intermission cocktails – something I have never witnessed. People were genuinely elated and their exhilaration filled the rafters. The show was rewarded with rapturous five-star reviews. In my mind, Crazy for You is the ultimate musical comedy and this revival could not have come at a better time – it was as if audiences needed it. Crazy For You can brush the dust off your soul.
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman
Set Design by Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design by William Ivey Long
Lighting Design by Ken Billington
Sound Design by Kai Harada
Musical Direction by Alan Williams