A “new” Gershwin musical comedy, Crazy For You was the quintessential musical – one where everybody sings, everybody dances and where anything on hand is used to make music. The plot was nothing new, having been adapted from the 1930s musical, Girl Crazy, but with an energetic cast, a touch of outrageously funny humor, colorful costumes, great scenery and one of the best musical scores of the century – who could ask for anything more?
George and Ira Gershwin were an incomparable team, responsible for some of the best-known American standards from Tin Pan Alley, stage and screen. Even George’s classical compositions, resonating with jazz and African-American influences, can be hummed whistled or sung by us all. The Gershwins and their compositions are part of the collective American consciousness. Crazy For You uses seven great Gershwin songs from Girl Crazy, including “Bidin’ My Time”, “Embraceable You”, “I Got Rhythm”, and “But Not for Me”. 13 other Gershwin songs are added: from Broadway shows like Treasure Girl, Oh, Kay!, Show Girl and Ladies First, Hollywood films like Shall We Dance and Damsel in Distress, and one addition, “Naughty Baby”, which was not written either for the stage or films.
Though the book for Crazy For You needed work, nothing was done to Ira’s lyrics, other than a little pronoun gender-bending here and there. Those for Girl Crazy are among his best – in fact, they are poetry of an indelible, universal sort. Just think of ‘I’m biding my time, ’cause that’s the kinda gal I’m’, or ‘Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you! Embrace me, you irreplaceable you!’ The creators of the show stated: “We wanted audiences to believe that each song was written especially for Crazy for You – that they couldn’t possibly have come from anywhere else…. [One night] we overheard a couple talking about the show. The woman asked, ‘Are George and Ira Gershwin still alive?’ And her husband said, ‘They must be. They’re still writing musicals.’
Crazy For You was produced in reaction to the conservative backlash that developed because of the extravagant excesses of the 1980s; in a world where change and uncertainty are commonplace, where cultural programs and funding have been cut within school systems and professional theatres, an upbeat, musical to remind us of “the good old days” was extremely welcome. Any similarities to context of the original production of Girl Crazy? Yes! During the Great Depression, the American public craved a different kind of entertainment. This sort of musical comedy alleviated the worries and offered some relief from the seriousness of everyday life. Work on the stage remake began in 1988 with the involvement of multimillionaire Roger Horchow. A lifelong fan of George Gershwin’s music, he remembered meeting the famed composer-pianist at his parents’ home: ‘I don’t remember what he played, of course. I just remember loving it!’ Mr. Horchow sold his mail order business, he earmarked the profit toward the fulfillment of a dream: a production of his favourite show, Girl Crazy, on Broadway. Licensing rights were granted by the Gershwin estate and Horchow hired the director, writers and designers and booked the Shubert Theatre for the show’s opening. Investing more than $5 million of his own money into the $7.5 million project, he adamantly declared to the New York Post that it was his first and last show: ‘This is the only one I wanted to do. We hope to do it in other cities, but not any more shows.’
Despite its fine score, Girl Crazy had a storyline completely inappropriate for today’s society and audiences. In an interview with Kevin Kelly of the Boston Globe, playwright Ken Ludwig (of Lend Me a Tenor fame) said, ‘All those musicals’ books of the ’20s and ’30s were awful, but Girl Crazy seemed to me the awfullest (sic) of all! It was dumb, silly, beyond silly. And full of ethnic humor that wasn’t funny at all. I decided I’d have to rewrite from scratch. And I wondered how this would play with the Gershwin estate, principally the three Gershwin nephews. To be honest, they were more than willing to do anything to get the show back onstage, partly, of course, because of continuing copyrights, but also as ongoing testimony to George and Ira.’ Given access to the entire Gershwin music catalogue, Ludwig (along with director Mike Ockrent) conceptualized a “new” plot, rearranged the score, deleted some songs and borrowed others, including “K-ra-zy For You”, which provided the musical with a new name.
Crazy for You opened at the Shubert Theatre February 19, 1992 to critical acclaim. Frank Rich of the New York Times said, ‘The show is bursting with original talent that takes off on its own cocky path, pointedly mocking recent British musicals even as it sassily rethinks the American musical tradition stretching from the Gershwins to (Michael) Bennett.’ Other critics were equally ecstatic: ‘Bright, recession-proof, stuffed with one-line zingers… We’re back in the lost paradise of the American musical, with glitter and girls, legs and voices, melodies of insouciant mastery… An exuberant evening of amusing sight gags invented by Mr. Ockrent, stunning costumes by William Ivey Long, energetic, clever dances by Susan Stroman and marvelous Gershwin music.’ Four years later, the final Broadway curtain dropped. Crazy for You had won 3 Tonys (Musical, Costume Design, Choreography); 2 Drama Desk Awards (Musical, Choreography) and 5 Outer Critics Circle Awards (Broadway Musical, Choreography, Scenic Design, Costumes, Lighting). Since the Broadway version has closed, any company that can pay the royalties is allowed to stage Crazy for You. Licenses have gone as far as Cape Town, Helsinki, Oslo, Budapest, Australia, Mexico City, London and Indianapolis.
The Crazy for You page at Musical Cyberspace is available here. You’ll find production information, a synopsis with musical numbers, a mini galley and related merchandise links there. Enjoy!