REVIEWS: Girl Crazy

Girl Crazy in Concert
Back Stage October 19, 2001
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

The Gershwins’ 1930 musical comedy, Girl Crazy, has been reincarnated as a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film, the stage rewrite Crazy For You, and the film remake When the Boys Meet the Girls. Musicals Tonight, true to its mission, has gone back to the Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan book, and its Custerville, Ariz. 1930 setting, to present the show as originally written.

The current concert revival reveals that although the score is one of the most impressive the Gershwins ever wrote ("I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," "But Not For Me," "Bidin’ My Time," etc.), the book hasn’t held up very well. Thomas Mills has directed in an intense style that covers the holes in the plot, but, strangely, his choreography was rather emaciated considering the possibilities. The set design by Stan Pearlman was witty given the limited budget. James Stenborg’s musical direction, like the overall production, was pleasant, but could rarely be called dynamic.

The cast was equally uneven. The central role of Danny Churchill was played by an authentic rising Broadway star: Perry Laylon Ojeda. His personal charisma made his transplanted Eastern playboy-turned-dude-ranch cowboy believable, although his bottom register was often inaudible. As his cowgirl love interest, petite Kelli Rabke was a charmer with a pretty voice. Stepping into the role that made Ethel Merman a star, Rachel Hale, though not a belter, put over "Sam and Delilah" and "Boy! What Love Has Done To Me" with pizzazz.

Stealing all his scenes as Gieber Goldfarb, a New York taxi driver complete with Yiddish accent, Michael Lluberes was up to the demands of lead comic, which included impersonating Chevalier, Jolson, and Cantor. Along with Rebecca Rich as his love interest, Patsy, he represented the rarely heard "You’ve Got What Gets Me" from the 1932 RKO film version.

Old Gershwin, Uncensored
The Jewish Week September 2001
Reviewed by Daniel Belasco

Why, one wonders, would someone revive a musical that includes what one critic called "the worst lyric Ira Gershwin ever penned"?

Despite the groaner "They needed a man who was brave and strong/To rid the town of crime./Goldfarb!/That’s I’m," from a ditty titled "Goldfarb That’s I’m!" (a spoof of George M. Cohans’s "Harrigan! That’s Me!"), the Musicals Tonight production of George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy makes sense because the score boasts the classic "Embraceable You" and "I Got Rhythm."

The song in question, originally sung in heavy Yiddish dialect by comedian Willie Howard, playing the stereotypical Jewish cabby Geiber Goldfarb, was eliminated from Crazy For You, the Gershwins' more well-known revamped version of Girl Crazy.
Yet Girl Crazy has an exceptional history and in the spirit of cultural forensics, Musicals Tonight producer Mel Miller brings a warts-and-all revival of the 1930 musical to the Sol Goldman Y for a two-week run that concludes Sun., Sept 16.

A classic fish-out-of-water tale, Girl Crazy is about a young New York playboy sent by his father to Arizona to cool off. Other New Yorkers follow the lad to the ranch, and hi-jinks ensue. The sport falls for a disinterested local lass. Put through the ringer, he eventually comes out ahead by helping to save the local all-male university by advertising to accept women. Goldfarb himself is made town sheriff in this jazz age-meets-vaudeville original.

Director Thomas Mills and musical director James Stenborg have big britches to fill. Ethel Merman made her breakout Broadway debut in Girl Crazy as Frisco Kate Fothergill, stopping the show with the randy "Sam and Delilah."

Girl Crazy Review
Off-Off Broadway October 24, 2001
Reviewed by Doug DeVita

It takes a lot of nerve to produce George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy as part of a series of "neglected musical comedies." After all, there are countless recordings of the score, there are at least 3 movie versions, the original script continues to be performed by stock and amateur companies, and of course, there is the recent Crazy For You, which used the basic plot and most of the score to smashing effect, and ran well over 1,000 performances longer than the 1930 original.

And yet, no one can accuse Musicals Tonight (and by extension its guiding force, the intrepidly charming Mel Miller) of being timid. Their concert production of Girl Crazy, if not the most necessary revival of recent times, was at its best an evening of sweetly familiar nostalgia, well performed and totally entertaining.

Make no mistake about it: Mike Okcrent and Susan Stroman knew what they were doing when they junked the original Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan book in favor of Ken Ludwig’s rewrite for Crazy For You. The jokes and situations were old even in 1930; to say nothing of characters that would never pass muster in these more "enlightened" times. But there is that score, jam-packed with delicious Gershwin classics that never lose their ability to thrill. "Embraceable You," "Bidin’ My Time," "But Not For Me," and of course the inimitable "I Got Rhythm," (performed with as much brio as Merman, and with infinitely more sex appeal, by Rachel Hale) are just a few of the evergreens this glorious score introduced. Every time the antiquated book threatened to bog things down with its over plotted silliness, along came another member of the terrific ensemble to get things shakin’ with another show stopping song, led by the redoubtable musical director James Stenborg.

Director Thomas Mills did his usual good job, keeping things moving at as brisk a pace as he could, while continuing to have fun with the books-in-hand format of this series with a decidedly "Stromanesque" flair; "I Got Rhythm," especially, rivaled the already legendary "walkers" segment in "The Producers" for tap-dancing ingenuity.

The cast, as mentioned, was a terrific ensemble of gleeful, scene stealing charmers. Particularly outstanding were the lovable Michael Lluberes as Gieber Goldfarb (there is a Bailystock in his future), the superbly comic Matthew Ellison, who stopped the show cold with his split second timing, dry delivery and elegant loose-limbed physicality as Slick Fothergill, and Rebecca Rich, a big-voiced comedienne to watch out for. As the romantic leads, Perry Laylon Ojeda and Kelli Rabke were delightful; Ojeda suavely self-assured and Rabke a tempestuous spitfire, with voices to match both their characterizations and the songs they were given to sing.

As is the case with concert presentations, the physical production was spare, but time and place were nicely suggested by simple set pieces (designed by Stan Pearlman, graphic design by Perry Pizarro) and a hodge-podge of costumes that shouldn’t have worked but somehow did. (Women’s wardrobe by Keith Benedict, the rest accredited to the TDF Costume Collection.) No one took credit for the lighting, which was less than inventive but at least kept the performers visible throughout with cold, un-gelled brightness.

If Musicals Tonight started its fourth season with a less than neglected work, the rest of the season is devoted to truly unfamiliar material. And if Girl Crazy was any indication, they are off to a good start.

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