One goes to “Crazy for You” to laugh and to enjoy a Gershwin-fest of familiar tunes, all in the hope that there is enough singing, dancing and acting talent to make this cotton candy of a play feel as satisfying as a steak dinner. And that’s what Baton Rouge Little Theater delivers.
One doesn’t go to a play like this expecting tragedy and triumph. Yet, that is what BRLT brought on Saturday night.
The tragedy came when 16-year-old cast member Phillip Abington died in a car wreck Friday, the news of which caused that night’s opening performance to be cancelled after just a few scenes. The triumph came 24 hours later as the rest of the theater company fought through its grief and turned in a memorable show that honored both Abington and that well-worn theatrical cliché: “The show must go on.”
Each actor wore a blue ribbon because it was Abington’s favorite color. The more traditional meaning of blue ribbons belongs to the production itself.
Directed by Jack Lampert, choreographed by Brad Blanchard and Sonya Blanchard and under Chris Pyfrom’s musical direction, “Crazy for You” is well sung, ably danced and competently acted, mixing some BRLT veterans with a very welcome new face.
With five plays in the past four years, Ernest Ourso Jr. qualifies for the veteran category, and his star has never shone as brightly as it does as Bobby Child, the early 20th-century banking heir whose business trip to Deadwood, Nev., turns into an unexpected chance to express his desire to dance and to fall in love. Ourso is a strong singer and dancer, and he has the energy and presence needed in a leading man.
The newcomer is Jackie Dixon Tuttle, who plays Polly Baker, who becomes Child’s love interest. Attractive, light on her feet, with an expressive face and possessing a simple yet elegant voice, Tuttle is perfect in the role of the small-town girl whose humdrum life gets a lot more interesting with Child’s arrival.
Ourso and Tuttle are good performers separately, and they take it to another level together, whether harmonizing in such songs as “Embraceable You” or doing their Fred-and-Ginger routines across the stage.
This duo doesn’t lack for support, either.
Although their roles mostly have them on the receiving end of jokes through much of the play, Ron Coats (playing Lank) and Olivia Rawlings (Irene Roth) break out in the song “Naughty Baby,” with Coats showing some delightful physical comedy. Bess Yunek (Patsy) nails her dumb blond role, and BRLT veterans Albert Nolan, Celeste Veillon and Kevin Harger shine as supporting characters.
The men, and especially the trio of Johnny Ballance, Dane Thibodeaux and Tyler Grezaffi have tight, pleasing harmonies, and the showgirls — Jamie Hipp, Haley Schroeck, Katelyn Adele Fasulla, Megan Davis Dewberry, Kaitlyn Johnson, Stephanie Toups, Alexandra Dietrich and Yunek — are visual and vocal delights.
Yet, in this play there is an absence that cannot go unnoticed.
Sometimes, it is subtle, such as in the outstanding close to Act One, “I Got Rhythm,” in which each male dancer uses a metal lid as a prop to create percussion. Abington’s lid was kept onstage, a silent witness to where he would have been. In the emotionally charged “Someone to Watch Over Me,” Tuttle could not keep her sorrow unchecked, breaking into tears, but never giving up on the song.
In the finale, Ourso held a portrait of Abington as the rest of the cast, some weeping as they sang, soldiered on to the end. The song’s climactic question — “Who could ask for anything more?” — was staggeringly poignant. The one thing everyone wanted could not come to pass.
Yes, “Crazy for You” makes patrons smile, laugh and tap their feet. On Saturday, it also touched their hearts. Who could ask for anything more?