IT was good to see that BODS were not frightened to put their full name, Bath Operatic and Dramatic Society, at the head of the central page of their informative programme for Crazy for You. Some groups nowadays will bend over backwards to try and ensure that the audience does not realise that the production is not presented by a professional company.
There was indeed no reason for BODS to hide their heads in the sand over anything to do with this production. Apart from the fact that the principals and ensemble were not paid for their work, there was nothing to separate the presentation, and production values of this show from any professional musicals seen so far this season in this theatre.
BODS knew that they had a good show on their hands in this amalgam of a 1930 George and Ira Gershwin musical and the 1943 MGM film, using most of the same music, with a different story and access to the whole Gershwin brothers’ songbook to ensure that every number was a winner.
From the brothers’ first Broadway hit, The Real American Folk Song, which Nora Bayes sang in the 1918 show Ladies First, to the 1936 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film Shall We Dance?, composed the year before George died at the tragically early age of 38, Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent, who created this show, raided the Gershwin archives for numbers to add to an already hit-laden score.
With such material on hand, it was never going to be a question of pearls cast before swine. Director Steve Blackmore, choreographer Annette Wilsher and musical director Peter Blackwood knew the value of the material and had the imagination, inventiveness and skill to get the best out of it, and the cast and musicians.
From the first strains of the overture the 15-piece orchestra, firmly controlled by the MD. captured the right sound to fit the period. The director drew equally correct portrayals from the principals, mixing humour and sentiment in just the right quantities, and the choreographer’s inventive ideas, to which the principals and ensemble readily and skilfully responded, produced one attractive picture after another. When it came to a full-blooded production number like I Got Rhythm, which ended the first act with an exciting flourish, you realised that good as the principals were, the ensemble matched them all the way.
As soloists and together, vocally and in dance, Arnie Richardson, as the stage-struck Bobby Child, and Rosie May Cook, a wonderfully feisty Polly Baker, scored goal after goal, in numbers like Things are Looking Up, Shall We Dance and Embraceable You. Having led the company in the riotous end to Act 1 they then showed that they could handle sentiment just as well in They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Away From Me, and But Not For Me.
Most of the comedy chances came to Bobby and his mimed business with Grant McCotter’s lovely Bela Zangler, an almost over-the-top send-up of impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, was wonderfully comic.
Annabel Latham’s man-eating sophisticate Irene Roth, who finally settles for a bit of rough in Pip Knowles’ well-played saloon owner Lank Hawkins, Barbara Ingledew as Bobby’s narrow-minded bullying mother Lottie, Huw Margan delightfully living in the past as Polly’s father Everett, Chris Born and Julia Padfield, two English tourists straight out of a PG Wodehouse novel, Jane Morgan’s Tess, a chorus girl with brains in her head as well as her feet, and Dave Key-Pugh, a delightfully dumb Moose, all made their mark.
One thing is certain – BODS will have strengthened their already strong fan base at the Theatre Royal with this production.