THEATRE MUSICALS / Old score draw hits the jackpot: Paul Taylor, theatre critic, and Edward Seckerson, music critic, on Crazy For You at the Prince Edward Theatre

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The Independent Culture
Those were the days - back in the Thirties, before seat- belt regulations - when a guy could keep a complete chorus line of leggy lovelies secreted under the bonnet of his Rolls, ready for those testing moments when he felt a fantasy sequence coming on. One man thus provided is Bobby Child (Kirby Ward), a rich young New York banker and frustrated hoofer, the hero of Crazy for You, the 'reinvented' Gershwin musical.

Dressed in scrunchy pink-petal tutus and heels, out on to 42nd Street the girls pour - a deliriously improbable, high-kicking profusion, like some mad chorus- line-a-gram. After providing Bobby with sycophantic backing for a tap routine (at one point, they hold out white telephones to pick up the sound of his clicking feet), they're rewound tidily and without trace into the Rolls. It was during this episode, early on in the first act, that it became abundantly clear that even a product as hyped as this was going to be a tall order to resist.

Crazy for You began life in 1930 as Girl Crazy, the musical that made Merman a star. The book was potty, but then Ken Ludwig's new improved one is in no great danger of winning a Pulitzer either. Stage-struck Bobby is sent to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a hick theatre. He falls in love with feisty Polly (excellent Ruthie Henshall), the proprietor's daughter and, in time-honoured Mickey Rooney fashion, asks: 'Why don't we put on a show? We've got a theatre right here]'

Only five of the 19 songs in Mike Ockrent's exuberant, beautifully designed and sung production are from the original musical. The rest (along with a couple of rarities) are plums plundered from other Gershwin shows. As a result, there are moments when you may feel that you are watching a thinly dramatised Greatest Hits rather than a work coherent in its own right: for example, it squanders the exquisite sadness of 'But Not for Me' to have Henshall sing it directly after Ward's rendition of 'They Can't Take That Away from Me'. Coming back to back, they almost counteract each other. The music, though, delights and is played with terrific orchestral attack.

The number that blows the roof off is not, as you might expect, the first act finale of 'I Got Rhythm', but the exhilarating 'Slap That Bass', where Susan Stroman's choreography turns the showgirls into Busby Berkeley double- basses in the arms of twiddling Deadrock males. One of the main pleasures of the evening is watching a zestful, well-drilled chorus who don't need to look as if they are importuning you to achieve a warm audience rapport. The show is more interested in technical dazzle, though, than in giving the main storylines any emotional depth or follow-through. In one or two cases, the casting is no help. Ward, as the hero, is engaging enough but oddly bland and featureless, so that it doesn't seem at all perverse that Polly should first fall in love with him when he's disguised as the bearded Hungarian impresario, Bela Zangler. It's why she should be bothered with him as Bobby that's the puzzle. A qualified rave, then. 'Swonderful, 'smarvellous, 'snot perfect. PT