What's a likely tonic in a time of economic gloom? A musical made for an earlier time of economic gloom. Oh yes, and a hero desperate not to be a banker.
The Gershwin vehicle Girl Crazy opened on Broadway in 1930, a year into the Great Depression. "My bonds and shares/May fall downstairs/Who cares, who cares?" notes an opening number. In 1993 the musical was re-modelled as Crazy For You, with added dollops of slapstick and farce, and half a lifetime of Gershwin hits from other shows. Gilt-edged standards such as "I Got Rhythm", "Embraceable You" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It" now jostle for space in a portfolio show that pays dividends number after glorious number.
The production now playing at the Novello originated in Regent's Park Open Air Theatre last summer, but sits beautifully in this restored 1905 jewel-box, despite a tiny stage that threatens to burst its bounds under the onslaught of Stephen Mear's choreography. In a show that's all about showbiz, dance more than holds its own against the songbook. As well as the regimented lines of tapping, there are waltzes and free-form Fred'n'Ginger-style duets, and even a Stomp-ish sequence in which brushes, brooms and chamber pots provide percussion and the entire cast of 24 dance on tea-trays. The standard "Slap That Bass" extends into a complex fantasia in which the girls become stringed instruments using cowboy lassos, and the band in the pit goes ape.
The plot, even for a musical, is bonkers. Bobby, scion of a banking empire, longs to give it up to be a hoofer, but struggles to catch the eye of Hungarian impresario Bela Zangler, whose glitzy Zangler Follies is the toast of Broadway. When Bobby goes on a business trip to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a disused theatre, he falls instantly in love with the theatre owner's tomboy daughter, Polly (the glorious Clare Foster). Once she discovers his connection to the bank, though, she won't have him. So Bobby bizarrely disguises himself as Bela Zangler, invites the chorus line out west, and tries to save the theatre by putting on a show, supplemented by local cowpokes. Then the real Mr Zangler turns up, as well as Bobby's mother and his fiancée.
In a musical poised between spoof and homage, Timothy Sheader's production makes the balance more precarious still, with terrific saloon-bar punch-ups rubbing up against classic vaudeville sight gags, and a finale worthy of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
To 28 July (020-7492 1551)
Former Royal Ballet principal Ivan Putrov and friends present a programme of works exploring the beauty of the male form in Men in Motion, at London's Sadler's Wells, Fri, Sat and Sun 29 Jan. It includes the legendary Spectre de la Rose, a Frederick Ashton solo not seen on a British stage for 30 years, and Ithaca, a new work with design by Turner Prize nominee Gary Hume.