Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Musical Makes Old Gershwin New Songs Plucked from `Girl Crazy' and Other of the Composer's Gems Enrich `Crazy for You'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Musical Makes Old Gershwin New Songs Plucked from `Girl Crazy' and Other of the Composer's Gems Enrich `Crazy for You'

Article excerpt

I'VE been afraid that people would go thinking they're going to see an old revival, and that's not what it is," says choreographer Susan Stroman of the current Broadway hit "Crazy For You." The show at the Shubert Theatre is not a revival, but brand new, and Ms. Stroman's work helped make it this year's Tony winner for Best Musical.

"One of my fears," says producer Elizabeth Williams, "was that we'd be perceived as a revue." Despite the seemingly foolproof notion that a big, bubbly Gershwin musical would be a welcome addition to any theater season and the uniformly dazzling reviews and healthy box-office response it has drawn, the project "was not a sure-fire thing," Ms. Williams says.

She points out that its viability hinged on the ability of a creative team to work together. She and her partner in the project, producer Roger Horchow, brought together Stroman, director Mike Ockrent, and author Ken Ludwig. "That coalescence happened. But," she cautions, "you never know for sure."

Mr. Ockrent says that they originally intended to do a revival of George and Ira Gershwin's 1930 musical "Girl Crazy." Ockrent was familiar with revivals from his direction of "Me and My Girl," a 1940s show, which he brought to Broadway in 1986. He says of the present project, "I heard a concert version and loved it. But then I read the book, and it made no sense," he says. The producers then turned to Mr. Ludwig, fresh from his successful writing of "Lend Me a Tenor."

"Even compared to other books of that period, it wasn't very good," Ludwig recalls. "In those days, books for musicals tended to be patchy and not have strong plots. And they also tended to rely heavily on stereotypes that we'd find offensive today."

The team decided a complete rewrite of "Girl Crazy" was in order. "With this show," Ockrent says, "we wanted to make a very strong leading character, and we wanted to make him be a dancer. We did want an old-fashioned musical comedy, but we wanted to intellectually underpin it. It deals with the differences in culture and renewal." They also decided to bolster the musical further by selecting some songs from "Girl Crazy" and adding other Gershwin numbers.

Fortunately, the Gershwin family offered the full catalog of songs for the project, with the exception of material from the opera "Porgy and Bess."

With Stroman on board, the process of shaping a story that was clear began. Ockrent explains, "We discussed a story line first, then met with the Gershwins and said, `we need this type of song here, and a love song there.' They literally delved into everything."

The result is a score laced with 18 elegant, rhythmic classics such as "Shall We Dance?" "But Not For Me," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "Embraceable You." Once the team realized that only five original songs and none of the book survived, they agreed on a new title, "Crazy for You. …

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