A Gersh­win mu­si­cal we all need now

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment -

Open Air Theatre, Re­gent’s Park, Lon­don NW1

ON THE open­ing night of this won­der­ful feel-good show, Lon­don was un­der siege by ri­ot­ing mobs. Not that the au­di­ence, sitting in the Open Air’s mag­i­cal set­ting, was aware of it at the time.

But in ret­ro­spect, know­ing that as this mu­si­cal’s su­perbly de­liv­ered plea­sures got un­der­way — as the cho­rus girls twirled across the stage, and as the two ro­man­tic leads (New York’s Bobby and Dead Rock’s Polly de­light­fully played with in­no­cence and sass by Sean Palmer and Clare Fos­ter) shrugged off a rainy start and lit up the evening with an avalanche of Gersh­win clas­sics — know­ing that dur­ing all this Lon­don burned, it is hard not to feel a lit­tle ret­ro­spec­tive shame at the en­joy­ment felt while so much mis­ery was be­ing meted out else­where.

But then, triv­ial as it may seem in this con­text, when you think that Crazy For You is based on Ge­orge and Ira Gersh­win’s 1930s De­pres­sion-era morale booster, Girl Crazy, what bet­ter tonic for these times?

Ken Lud­wig’s frothy story is about a banker who loves to dance and who falls head over his tap­ping heels for the girl whose theatre he is sup­posed to fore­close on but in­stead helps to save.

But al­though it is the per­fect piece of non­sense on which to graft the Gersh­wins’ ir­re­sistible score, what counts just as much here is the cre­ative team of di­rec­tor Tim Sheader and chore­og­ra­pher Stephen Mear, who once again prove that they are the most po­tent com­bi­na­tion of mu­si­cal tal­ent cur­rently at work in this coun­try.

Un­der their direc­tion, the songs Slap That Bass and I Got Rhythm be­come ec­static cel­e­bra­tions of dance, melody and, well, rhythm. They are mo­ments of mu­si­cal ec­stasy and al­most match the rap­ture achieved by Sheader’s and Mear’s pro­duc­tion of Hello Dolly! of a cou­ple of years ago. Shame­fully, no pro­ducer took that show to the West End.

This one is equally de­serv­ing. And the coun­try prob­a­bly needs it. ( Tel: 0844 826 4242)

Don­mar Theatre, Lon­don WC2

ANY HOPE that, with Jude Law star­ring as a ship’s stoker, Rob Ash­ford’s pro­duc­tion would rank along­side other starry re­vivals of Eu­gene O’Neill — Kevin Spacey’s un­for­get­table The Ice­man Cometh or Jessica Lang’s har­row­ing Long Day’s Jour­ney into Night — fades with the dawn­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that this just is not a great play.

Like Shaw’s Mrs War­ren, O’Neill’s Anna Christie re­veals that pros­ti­tutes, you know, are peo­ple too — a les­son that had con­sid­er­ably more im­pact in the early 20th cen­tury than it does in the 21st.

Un­like Shaw, O’Neill opts for the al­to­gether saltier set­ting of a sailors’ bar and then the coal barge on which lives age­ing Swedish cap­tain Chris (David Hay­man) and his worldly-wise daugh­ter Anna (Ruth Wil­son), who be­fore she turned up at the bar, he had not seen since she was five.

Chris lives in bliss­ful ig­no­rance of his daugh­ter’s abu­sive child­hood and the life of pros­ti­tu­tion that re­sulted from his send­ing her away to be brought up on land. That his­tory is in­evitably re­vealed af­ter Law’s ship­wrecked Ir­ish stoker, Mat, hauls him­self out of a rag­ing sea and onto the wooden deck of Chris’s and Anna’s barge. It is one hell of an en­trance.

Naked from the waist up, Law’s mus­cu­lar sea dog is all bravado and brawn. With an Ir­ish brogue as broad as his shoul­ders he im­me­di­ately woos Anna with tales of un­bri­dled strength and con­fes­sions of undy­ing love.

Ash­ford’s pro­duc­tion is pow­er­fully played. Law re­veals the in­nate de­cency that lies within Mat’s thug­gish ex­te­rior. And Wil­son is also very fine, bal­anc­ing a yearn­ing for love and a dig­ni­fied re­fusal to be un­fairly judged.

But the truths re­vealed lack the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact of O’Neill’s greater plays. There is the same sense here of peo­ple be­ing trapped in their lives, but only by at­ti­tudes they could eas­ily choose to throw over­board. ( Tel: 0844 871 7624)

PHOTO: TRIS­TRAM KEN­TON

They got rhythm: cho­rus girls twirl un­der the stars in Re­gent’s Park’s Open Air Theatre su­perb pro­duc­tion

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