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We may be suffering through a plague of soggy weather, but Maine’s straw hat theater season is sailing along quite nicely this July. Two excellent summer shows opened last week in Brunswick and Arundel.
Tops by all measures is the fully professional production of “Crazy For You,” the so-called “New Gershwin Musical Comedy,” at Maine State Music Theatre. In some ways, “Crazy For You” is simply a re-hash of “Girl Crazy,” the 1930 Broadway hit with score by the famous Gershwin brothers, George and Ira. But with a fresh new book by Ken Ludwig, it became one of the top hits of the 1990s.
Arundel Barn Playhouse is currently running a youthful, energetic and very appealing professional production of “Godspell,” the 1976 surprise Broadway hit by John-Michael Tabelek and Stephen Schwartz.
Recalling a lyric by Ira Gershwin, “Who could ask for anything more?”
‘Crazy For You’
Call it a revival. Sort of.
The 1920s and 1930s marked one of the most productive and creative periods in the long and illustrious history of the Broadway musical, but only a handful of the many shows that date from that period are still produced with any regularity.
The main reason is simple: Prior to the landmark production of “Oklahoma!” in 1943, Broadway books were so weak that even the best shows represent an intellectual embarrassment for modern audiences – despite an abundance of tuneful and memorable songs.
Numerous musical comedies from the 1920s and 1930s by brothers George and Ira Gershwin suffer the same obscurity. But in 1993, one of their best shows, 1930’s “Girl Crazy,” gained a new life with a very funny new book by Ken Ludwig, tops among Broadway’s current scriptwriters. You could call it a revival, but the changes were so extensive that the producers gave it a new name: “Crazy For You.”
Billed as the “New Gershwin Musical Comedy,” “Crazy For You” was a huge hit, running four years on Broadway, garnering nine Tony Award nominations and winning three, including Best Musical. As its second offering of the 2009 season, Maine State Music Theatre has mounted a sensational, colorful and energetic production of “Crazy For You,” and it promises to be the company’s blockbuster summer hit.
It’s a show about show biz, and the basic conceit is simple: Young and handsome Bobby Child, played by Tony Yazbeck, is a banker who’d rather dance on Broadway. Bobby’s boss is his money-grubbing mother, an old curmudgeon who’s delightfully and laughably played by Connie Shafer. When mean old Mrs. Child forecloses on a theater in the ghost town of Deadrock, Nev., she sends her son to tend to the legal details.
But the theater is owned by pretty Polly Baker, played by Jessica Lee Goldyn, who’s also the only woman in Deadrock. Romantic and comic sparks fly as Bobby courts Polly and finds a new career on stage. And like so many old-fashioned romantic comedies, complications abound.
MSMT’s show-stopper is Yazbeck, a versatile actor-singer-dancer who sports a long list of Broadway and national touring credits. And there’s a real and palpable magnetism behind his love for Polly: It’s for real, Yazbeck and Goldyn are engaged. Other fine comic performances are turned in by Dennis St. Pierre, Lara Seibert and David Hess. Plus a vast supporting cast of singing/dancing cowboys and gorgeously costumed chorus girls too numerous to mention by name.
The biggest attraction is the classic Broadway score, which features such memorable Gershwin brothers tunes as “I Got Rhythm,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Embraceable You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
Maine State Music Theatre presents “Crazy For You” at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick through July 11. Call 725-8769 or visit msmt.org on the Internet.
“Godspell” is an archaic spelling of “gospel,” an ancient word that means “good news.” And those etymological connections lead straight to the central message of the enduring 1971 rock musical by John-Michael Tebelak: “Godspell” is a theatrical celebration that spreads the good news about God’s love for mankind, told through Jesus Christ and recorded in the Biblical gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
After a score by Stephen Schwartz was retrofitted to Tebelak’s 1971 script, “Godspell” became one of Broadway’s most unconventional – and unexpected – hit shows of 1976. It won four Drama Desk awards, garnered a Tony nomination and ran more than a year on the Great White Way. Since then “Godspell” has been a staple of community and professional theater for three-plus decades.
Arundel Barn Playhouse has mounted an exuberant and very youthful professional production of this classical rock musical as its second offering of 2009.
Tebelak’s unique vision was to re-imagine and recreate the New Testament in the style and idioms of the 1960s and 1970s, a period of youthful excitement and unrest – as evidenced by rock music, the hippie subculture and political upheaval.
Ten actors – five men and five women dressed as circus clowns – relate about a dozen parables and stories from the Gospels, such as the prodigal son, the good Samaritan and Jesus’ confrontations with the money-changers and religious authorities.
One actor plays Jesus, who is dressed in white and wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a red heart. In Arundel’s production, this honor is given to Darren Bluestone, who portrays Jesus as an attractive, persuasive and charismatic young man without a trace of self-consciousness or sanctimoniousness. (In their notes to the script, Tebelak and Schwartz caution directors against overly sanctimonious characterizations.)
A second actor plays John the Baptist early in the show and Judas Iscariot toward the end. This difficult role goes to John Rozzoni, who successfully accomplishes the switch between polar opposites.
The other eight members of the company play multiple roles, enacting small skits and other consciously theatrical dramatizations of Jesus’ words. Tops among these is Monica Willey, a young lady from greater Bangor, who leads the company in “Day by Day,” the show’s most popular and most famous song.
I also liked Allison Frenzel’s lead role in “Turn Back O Man,” where the young actress assumes the role of an alluring sex siren in luxuriant pink boots and festooned with pink feather boas.
Which brings to mind another Arundel Barn plus: Kristina Makowski’s brilliantly colorful costume designs.
Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “Godspell” through July 11. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com on the Internet.