The last time Tom Chambers was in Bristol – performing Top Hat a few years ago – he told me he’d once so wanted to be Fred Astaire that he spent months of his life learning one of the great man`s routines until he was step-perfect.
He then recorded it and sent out 150 DVD copies in the hope that someone, somewhere would give him a job as a dancer. He only got one reply: from Casualty, who were looking for an actor to play a doctor (who didn’t dance).
That`s showbiz. But Casualty led to Strictly in 2008, which he won, which in turn catapulted him into the big time of West End musicals. He has now become who he most wanted to be. He is a man who has fulfilled his dream.
And as dreams go, Crazy For You is a good one to be in. It began more than 80 years ago as Girl Crazy, the last of George and Ira Gershwin’s big musicals, including smash hits like Embraceable You and I Got Rhythm. Definitely a good start, but the decision has been made that the story could be improved – so this new show has been rewritten.
Now it is an all-singing, all-high-kicking ensemble piece where the supporting cast are also multi-instrumentalists who play all the tunes as well as act, sing and dance. It`s a neat idea, but it must have been difficult to cast. Where do you find a good trumpet player who also looks great and is a decent hoofer?
I was foolishly expecting Astaire-style cocktail bars and fancy hotel lobbies, but it`s mostly set in a very convincing but definitely Broadway version of the Wild West with Tom as an endearingly hopeless tenderfoot (“I want to be a cow poke”, he says, “I want to poke cows”).
On top of that are all the usual shenanigans of disguises and mistaken identities, most of them requiring a certain amount (no, make that a lot) of suspension of disbelief. But it`s probably best to ignore the plot, lean back and just enjoy the singing and dancing. And there`s my tiny niggle.
Along with the big standout songs already mentioned, there are also delicious additions including timeless classics like Someone To Watch Over Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It and They Can`t Take That Away From Me, but there are also a whole bunch of songs here I’ve never heard of and would never have associated with the Gershwins. Stiff Upper Lip, anyone? Naughty Baby? Can you hum them?
Maybe it`s me, but I wouldn’t include those in the Great American Songbook. These poorer, less well known numbers dilute the truly wonderful stuff. If you had the chance to rewrite a show and have your pick of all of the great songs the Gershwins wrote – like Director Paul Hart and book writer Ken Ludvig have here – then why not include Fascinating Rhythm or The Man I Love? (Although I accept there may be copyright restrictions I’m unaware of).
But I’m being picky. Crazy For You is a hugely enjoyable show with lots of entertainment value and plenty of laughs. Tom Chambers hardly ever leaves the stage and works his socks off. He’s such a good dancer that he can even get away with looking like a bad dancer when the plot demands it, and he’s very ably supported by Charlotte Wakefield as Polly, Arthur Boan as comic turn Custus and Caroline Flack as Irene (not much evidence of the so-called Strictly curse here).
Crazy For You continues at the Hippodrome until Saturday, October 14. For more info, visit www.atgtickets.com/shows/crazy-for-you-2017/bristol-hippodrome
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