Royal & Derngate (Derngate Auditorium), Northampton (UK) • 4 November 2006 • 2:30pm
Music: George Gershwin. Lyrics: Ira Gershwin. Libretto: Ken Ludwig.
Presented by the Northampton Amateur Operatic Company. Director/Choreographer: Martyn Knight. Musical Director: Paul Truman.
I have a very special relationship with Crazy For You, one of the first shows that I saw in London, in 1995. I was overwhelmed then by the luscious Gershwin score (enhanced of course by Bill Brohn’s orchestrations), the superlative production values, the inexhaustible inventiveness of Susan Stroman’s choreography (I can still feel my eyes get misty the moment those spotlights pinned the girls-turned-basses in “Slap That Bass”) and even by the cleverness of the libretto. To this day, Crazy For You remains one of the CDs that I will play when I need to cheer myself up.
I saw two other professional productions after the original London production (one in Millburn, New Jersey and the other one in Amsterdam). It came as a surprise when I heard that the Northampton amateur operatic society would be doing the show right when I was there to catch a much talked-about production of Follies (see next post).
I think I’d only ever seen two amateur productions in my life (not counting France), both in Windsor, Ontario: Once Upon a Mattress and The Wizard of Oz… so I didn’t really know what to expect, especially since C4U (as it’s also known) is a demanding show.
There was no need to worry. The minute the orchestra started playing the overture, I knew I was in for something special. The sound coming from the pit was spectacular… with one significant exception, the ugly synthesiser used to replace the string section (there was a real double bass, of course). Ten excellent brass and reed players, most of them playing two, three or even (it seemed) four instruments. And these guys are amateurs?
The overall scenic design was great and allowed for the smooth scene changes that the show requires. There were only two awkward scene changes in the whole show, which is a feat. The sets were greatly enhanced by a lighting scheme that seemed to bathe the stage in rather spectacular swashes of colour.
The acting and singing was mostly of near-West End caliber, with some especially strong performances (Lisa Simpson as Irene Roth, for instance). What was lacking, sadly, is the dancing. Sure, you can’t probably expect amateurs to be first-class dancers, but Crazy For You was designed as a showcase for Stroman’s choreography, and when everything else is of such great quality, well, you tend to become demanding. Most of the dance scenes, especially those involving Bobby, seemed to have been choreographed in slow motion.
But that orchestra was really something…