SUMMER STOCK CAST Actors from away bring their A games to Arundel.
Every summer, the Arundel Barn Playhouse continues the classic tradition of Maine summer stock theater, by bringing their leading performers from out of town — often New York City — to put on a series of shows and live in beautiful rural Arundel for the season. One wonders whether their experience is anything like that of a gaggle of Follies girls transplanted to middle-of-nowhere Nevada, which is the entertaining premise of Crazy for You, a “new Gershwin musical” and the second of the Arundel Barn’s summer shows.
Crazy for You, directed by Dewayne Barrett with musical direction by Jeffrey Van Damme, is based on the Gershwin brothers’ 1930 Girl Crazy, which later was filmed as the classic Garland-Rooney vehicle. The “new” part is that the book was entirely rewritten in 1992, by Ken Ludwig, and fortified with several Gershwin tunes not in the original play. But in both old and new, the bottom line is “Let’s put on a show in the American West.”
In this case, it’s because Bobby Child (Patrick Heffernan), son of a New York grande dame of banking (local actor Betty Gravelle, of Lyric Music Theatre) has been sent away from the city, from his uppity fiancée Irene (understudy Jessica Ernest, the night I attended, and a real treat — I was equally transfixed by her leggy elegance as Roxie in Legacy Theater’s Chicago a few years back) and from his dream of dancing for Bela Zangler’s Follies. His mom wants him in Deadrock, Nevada, to complete foreclosure on, as it happens, a run-down theater. But soon enough he’s fallen in love with Polly Baker (Kelly Morris), the daughter of the theater’s owner. And so, obviously, the theater must be saved, a show put on, and a gaggle of Follies girls transplanted. But because Polly refuses to play with Bobby, he can of course only make this happen by impersonating the Hungarian Zangler, with all the romantic and comic high jinks such a conceit makes possible.
Showmanship is the ultimate currency here, and the cast does put on a lively show. The Follies girls, led by dance manager and apple of Zangler’s eye Tess (Brittney Morton, an effortlessly engaging dancer and stage presence), are chirpy, energetic, and spiffily decked out. In one fun scene, they slink out of telephone booths in nude leotards dripping with silver and rhinestone flapper beads, which make delectable sounds as they shimmy and tap.
Then there are the local cowpokes-turned-showmen, several of them locally based young performers (as are several Follies girls), all of whose moves are also plenty entertaining. They are especially priceless, though, in their pre-showmen state, lying around in wheel barrows and singing “Bidin’ My Time” with a deadpan, glazed-over torpor that is to my mind the funniest single bit of the show. They’ve also got some fun moves in the fake saloon gunfights they practice for the tourists, and they’re a hoot in rehearsal scenes, lumbering like bulls among the china of the girls.