Choreography key to 'Crazy for You' at Theatre Memphis

Jordan Nichols (upper left)  stars in 'Crazy for You,' a musical of classic George Gershwin tunes that was adapted from the 1930 musical 'Girl Crazy.' The production runs through June 26 at Theatre Memphis.

Christopher Blank/Special to The Commercial Appeal

Jordan Nichols (upper left) stars in "Crazy for You," a musical of classic George Gershwin tunes that was adapted from the 1930 musical "Girl Crazy." The production runs through June 26 at Theatre Memphis.

For the most part, George Gershwin was a musical theater guy. That's easy to forget when "Rhapsody in Blue" comes on the classical music station, or when "Porgy and Bess" gets the grand opera treatment, or when Count Basie's swing band plays "I Got Rhythm."

But musical theater? Just try to name a Broadway show written by the great American composer.

How about "Rosalie," "Show Girl" and "Pardon My English"?

Most likely you'll remember hearing his tunes — cherry-picked from the musicals — in various films of that generation.

The reason theaters don't stage more of Gershwin's shows is simple: the plots would likely bore the pants off contemporary audiences. They often involve the corniest of love stories, groan-inducing conventions and comedy that could only make eyes roll.

Take his 1930 musical "Girl Crazy," for example, which contained classics such as "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm" and "But Not For Me." In the three film adaptations that followed, the scripts were extensively rewritten.

The show was revived on Broadway in 1992, but not really. Producers realized that Gershwin's songs, not the story, were the real meat of the show.

"Girl Crazy" was retooled as "Crazy for You." Ken Ludwig, playwright of the backstage farce "Lend Me a Tenor," was hired to rewrite the script. Most notable, the big 1930s-style dance numbers were newly minted by choreographer Susan Stroman, who would win the first of her five Tony Awards for the show.

"Crazy for You" was advertised as "the new Gershwin musical comedy," in part because of the script, but also because popular Gershwin tunes were borrowed from other shows, including "They Can't Take that Away From Me" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

Memphis choreographer Kathy Caradine had "Crazy for You" on her wish list for years after seeing the Broadway tour at the Orpheum.

"I've been talking about it because it's such a big dance show," said Caradine. "It was written during the Great Depression as a way to help people get through rough times and, in a way, its time has come again. I like a big, happy musical."

Caradine has frequently worked with director Mitzi Hamilton on Theatre Memphis' boffo musicals "Cats," "A Chorus Line" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Her solo efforts for the theater include "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Annie Get Your Gun."

When the Theatre Memphis' play selection committee chose "Crazy for You" as this season's closer (running through June 26), the native Memphian had to dust off her dancing shoes months ago. Tap dancing rehearsals began back in January. She is trying to remain faithful to Stroman's choreography.

"A lot of the tapping is of the Fred Astaire variety," she said. "It's highly syncopated. Five people in the cast have been driving up from Hernando to be in this show."

Director Robert Hetherington said that two strong local performers were cast in the leading roles: Jordan Nichols, who has worked in New York, and Emily Petit, a vocalist who has starred in several Theatre Memphis musicals.

"This show lives and dies on the strength of its choreography," Hetherington said. "There's just an enormous number of set changes."

"Crazy for You"

Performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 26 at Theatre Memphis, 630 Perkins Ext. Extra show: 7:30 p.m. June 15. Tickets are $28 adults, $15 students, $10 children under age 12. Call 682-8323.

© 2011 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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