Something old, something new, something borrowedenough to make you blue. This dressed-up sentiment fits two Salt Lake City productions to a T, especially when you consider that Crazy For You and the female version of The Odd Couple weds previously existing material with updated or new material.
You could look at this practice as a way for old works to speak to, and become more accessible for, younger generations, or you could just see at it as another way for producers to mine bucks out of proven old scripts and songs by passing them off as new. Whatever position you take, the really good, sometimes bad and occasionally ugly of this practice can be found in these stagings of Crazy For You and The Odd Couple.
When Crazy For You premiered on Broadway in 1992, critics raved over its classy, razzle-dazzle staging and its theatrical victory of reclaiming Gershwin standards from TV commercials and indulgent jazz singers. Never mind that the new farcical script by Ken Ludwig kept the musical purposely trapped in the setting and mind-set of 1930s Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers filmsor that it was just revamp of the original Girl Crazy and borrowed heavily from his own play Lend Me a TenorCrazy For You served as reminder that American musicals were every bit as good as the overblown British imports that had invaded Broadway in the 1980s.
With Crazy For You, Pioneer Theatre Company has finally produced a musical that is worthy enough to stand up and fight with Broadway touring company competition. And it’s about time, especially after seasons of PTC complaining about the unfair playing ground in Salt Lake City when their musicals should have been of Broadway caliber all along.
The audiences on opening night just lapped up all of choreographer Jim Christian’s spectacular tap choreography and the corny jokes from dumb cowboys and chorines under John Caywood’s capable direction. And having so many glorious Gershwin songs no doubt brought on pangs of happy nostalgia, especially delivered by a marvelous coupling of Stacy Todd Holt and Nancy Anderson as the boy-meets-girl pair of Bobby and Polly.
If the roaring laughter and thunderous applause serve as any indicator, it would be safe to suggest that PTC has a bonafide hit on their hands with Crazy For You. But the production is not perfect, and occasionally panders to the lowest common theatrical denominators just to get laughs.
While Crazy For You’s first act leaves you flying highas the best escapist musicals usually dothe second act only highlights some of the show’s inherent weaknesses. The paper-thin plot becomes glaringly apparent in the second act as musical numbers and scenes don’t blend together seamlessly.
The Western-cowboy kitsch that starts off as cute nearly reaches overkill, especially in the finale that reeks of the tackiest Branson, Mo., stage show. Someone should have hog-tied David Kay Mickelsen (costumes) and George Maxwell (sets) before they were let out of the pen with their indulgent and over-the-top finale designs.
Despite its few production faults and insignificant plot, the audience still gets its money’s worth of escapist laughter and entertainment with PTC’s Crazy For You. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Neil Simon’s female reworking of The Odd Couple in a production by new Salt Lake City theater company Salt City Productions, Inc.
Produced on Broadway in 1985 to lukewarm reviews and a moderate run, the female version of The Odd Couple was treated more as a revival than as a new work. While the idea of changing Felix and Oscar into Florence and Olive is an interesting concept to explore, Neil Simon’s ultimate realization of it proved to be just as unnecessary as his critically panned film sequel The Odd Couple II, which is in movie theaters now.
While the idea of a two male friends becoming a domesticated couple was really funny several decades ago, much of the humor is gone now. Despite the gender switch, several new lines and a two- (or three-) decade update, the female Odd Couple is just as tired and worn-out as the original.
Of course, much of this could be forgotten if the actors were continually engaging and played the comic material with honesty. Unfortunately, the cast assembled by director Scott Ditty is not completely up to the task.
Much of the patented Neil Simon comic timing is lacking from the cast, and there are several casting choices that are questionable.
You know you’re in for trouble when one of two of The Odd Couple is miscast. While Missy Sharette is fine as the compulsively neat Florence, Jennifer Eyre is too young to be believable as the sloppy sportscaster Olive. As the two interact, the stakes are never made high enough to make the actions of Florence and Olive believable, particularly the famed linguini on the wall fight sequence.
Yet the production still has its moments of good humor, particularly the double date with the Costazuela brothers (expertly played by Patric Knight and Christopher Robin Miller), which only makes the audience wish that the rest of the show were as funny as this isolated scene.
With Crazy For You and The Odd Couple, Salt Lake City audiences get some good and bad repackaged theater. While there is very little new to say in either of these works that were passed off as new a few years ago, at least audiences attending will be somewhat familiar with what they’re going to see. Who knows? Perhaps in the future, audiences will have the option of seeing Crazy For You II and The Odd Couple II adapted for stage with the genders reversed.
Crazy For You plays through May 16 at Pioneer Theatre Company, located at 300 S. 1340 East. Call 581-6961 for ticket and performance information. The Odd Couple female version presented by Salt City Productions Inc. plays through May 8 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, located at 138 W. 300 South. Call ArtTix at 355-2787 for ticket and performance information.