Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good, not Great, Gershwins

Girl Crazy
Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin
Book by Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
Conducted by Rob Fischer
Starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Wayne Knight, Marc Kudisch, Becki Newton, Ana Gasteyer

Performances from November 19-22, 2009
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street

I doubt that Girl Crazy will be among those blessed Encores! productions to transfer to Broadway (the latest is Finian’s Rainbow). The return of this mediocre Ira and George Gershwin musical has one of the most jaw-droppingly awful books ever, about a bunch of hard-nosed New Yorkers who end up on an Arizona ranch with a group of western hicks. Romance is in the air alongside the usual mistaken-identity shenanigans, until all is sorted to out to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.

But at least there’s that fabulous score! If Guy Bolton and Jack McGowan’s book is dated and wincingly unfunny (even David Ives’ usual adroit adaptation can’t help), then the brothers Gershwin’s music and lyrics are up to their considerable best. Among the songs that brighten Girl Crazy are a trio of certifiable classics (“Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm” and “But Not for Me”) and a couple more shiny, polished gems (“Sam and Delilah” and “Could You Use Me?”), while other tunes (“Bidin’ My Time” and “Goldfarb! That’s I’m!”) showcase their lyrical wit, with imaginative rhyming schemes never heard this side of Sondheim today.

Still, that “Bidin’ My Time” gets two reprises shows that the Gershwins were stretching their glorious music over a thin layer of Bolton and McGowan’s gruel. Even so, Girl Crazy is an endlessly hummable show, making for an entertaining two hours. Would that the romantic leads in the Encores! staging, real-life married couple Chris Diamantopoulos and Becki Newton, had a spark of chemistry: both are solid singers but only passable actors and dancers. Of course, their duets include the indestructible “Could You Use Me” and “Embraceable You,” which help immeasurably.

The rest of the cast fares better. Ana Gasteyer takes a healthy stab at abrasive entertainer Frisco Kate, which Ethel Merman made famous, and acquits herself well, especially during her big showstopper, “I Got Rhythm.” As her wayward husband Slick Follicle, the dashing Marc Kudisch has only one solo turn (“Treat Me Rough”), but is a certified scene-stealer throughout. Wayne Knight might overdo New York cabdriver turned Arizona sheriff Gieber Goldfarb, but he’s a polished pro who gets laughs.

Rob Fischer coaxes luscious sounds from the Encores Orchestra, which is to be expected considering the music. John Lee Beatty’s sets, William Ivey Long’s costumes and Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting coalesce amusingly under Jerry Zaks’ nimble direction, which, along with Warren Carlyle’s clever choreography, take the one-joke plot as far it deserves to go. Happily for the audience, Girl Crazy makes music that only could have come from the Gershwins.
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