Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Crazy for Candlelight's New Production

By Guest Blogger, Mike Logothetis
Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.



The Candlelight Theatre’s exhilarating and tight production of Crazy for You is a joy to experience and may change some misconceptions about local dinner theaters.

After recent extensive upgrades, The Candlelight Theatre has improved its technical and culinary abilities plus its overall infrastructure. It’s an old, comfortable building with a spiffy new interior, delicious buffet, attentive staff and, oh yeah, top-notch performers. Remember, it all boils down to the product on stage and Crazy for You delivers in spades.

This 1992 musical, with book by Ken Ludwig, takes songs by George and Ira Gershwin and ties them together in a tale about a Broadway dreamer who finds romance, drama and purpose in a small Nevada town.

Director and choreographer Dann Dunn takes the timeless music of the Gershwins and makes it a hugely enjoyable and modern experience. Dunn’s staging and choreography feel exceptionally fresh. In number after number, you find yourself watching the dance steps with unusual attention because Dunn makes them so arrestingly interesting. The cast is versed in several dance styles, but tap dominates, in a good way – think of all the clip-clop and bang-bang of the Old West.

The show begins with Bobby Child (Nate Golden) – the rich son of a New York banking family who yearns to perform on Broadway – being unceremoniously rejected by impresario Bela Zangler (Max Redman).  Searching for more from life, Bobby is torn between unloving commitment to his longtime fiancee Irene (Kaylan Wetzel) and loyalty to his mother (Susan Dewey), who demands that Bobby continue doing her bidding in banking. One such mission is sending Bobby to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on the rundown theater there. The town has seen better days, but Bobby’s excitement at seeing the theater – and meeting last-girl-in-town, Polly (Madison Buck) – makes him sympathetic to the locals’ desire to revitalize their town.

Saloon proprietor Lank Hawkins (Anthony Connell) tries to convince Polly’s stubborn father Everett (Barry Gomolka) to sell him the theater before Bobby Child’s bank takes it. Lank also has eyes for Polly and isn’t pleased that a romantic rival has come to town in the form of a city slicker.

Bobby and Polly sow the seeds of love through two classic songs (Could You Use Me? and Shall We Dance?). The former showcases the genius of Ira Gershwin’s wordplay, while the second highlights a beautiful melody that is typical of George Gershwin.

Bobby realizes that if he forecloses on the Gaiety Theater he will lose the girl of his dreams.  He comes up with the idea of putting on a show to pay off the mortgage.  Polly agrees to this plan until she finds out what he is really doing in town and suspects deception. Heartbroken, Bobby decides to produce the show anyway, but disguised as Mr. Zangler. Deeply hurt, Polly expresses her loneliness in Someone to Watch Over Me – a lovely performance by Ms. Buck.

A few days later, The Zangler Follies Girls appear like a mirage in the desert, which excites and invigorates the men of Deadrock.  Rehearsals for the big show don't go so well, but upbeat Bobby changes all that with the song Slap That Bass – a rollicking musical number where dancers become musical instruments.

This is a good time to mention the quality of the sets, costumes and props. Envision Productions has created a wonderful, dynamic stage with open spaces for large dance numbers, but also a sense of intimacy. Amanda Gillies’ props are right in tune with what Mr. Dunn is trying to get from the show and characters. Chairs, pickaxes and even plungers are used within intricate dance routines and comedic interludes. The costumes, designed by Tara Bowers and Timm Cannon, are period correct and allow for fluid movement. It’s all seamless, which is how scenery and props should work in a big production-style musical.

I’d also like to recognize the vast and capable chorus of showgirls and cowpokes who enliven the show with pithy dance steps, robust singing, and solid acting. Michelle Affleck (Louise), Julianna Babb (Betsy), Nicole Calabrese (Patsy), Nicole Lewin Mariash (Sheila), Jenna Rogalski (Elaine), Kristen Smith (Vera), and Erin Michelle Waldie (Mitzi) are wonderfully joyous as the Zangler Follies Girls.  Down-on-their-luck cowboys Zachary DeBevec (Wyatt), Daniel Irwin (Pete), Chris Millison (Sam), Christian Ryan (Jimmy), and Devon Sinclair (Moose) bring life and personality to the otherwise dead town.

Back at the Gaiety Theater, optimism reigns with the show ready to wow any and all comers.  However, Polly has fallen in love with Bobby’s impersonation of Bela Zangler (Embraceable You) and Irene makes a surprise visit to town.

Opening night arrives with the cowboys-turned-actors and showgirls in high hopes (Tonight's the Night!). Sadly, everyone is frustrated to discover that the only people to arrive are British guidebook writers Eugene (Topher Layton) and Patricia Fodor (Lindsay Mauck).  What begins as disappointment changes into the realization that the show has reinvigorated the once-sleepy town.  The company celebrates with a lively rendition of I Got Rhythm while the real Zangler stumbles unnoticed into the town as the first act ends.

While all of the performances are solid, Nate Golden shines in the lead role. Golden is a physically deft, lively, and funny guy with singing and dancing chops to entertain audience members of all kinds. Simply put, Golden is a triple-threat of song, dance and acting.  For me, the highlight of the show came early when Bobby’s fiancee Irene and mother Lottie argue over him and his loyalties to them. In a vivid daydream, Bobby imagines himself dancing with the Follies Girls and joins them in a rousing rendition of I Can't Be Bothered Now.

Act Two kicks off in Lank’s saloon with Bobby professing his love to Polly. Unfortunately, she’s still in love with the man she thinks is Zangler. Bobby is about to convince Polly that he has been impersonating “Zangler” when the real Zangler stumbles into the saloon looking for Tess (Kimberly Maxson) – one of his dancers for whom he carries a torch.

Zangler finds Tess, but refuses her request to produce the show and save the theater. Tess storms off and the drunken Zangler bemoans his fate. Bobby, dressed like Zangler, appears and the two men act as mirror images of each other – lamenting their lost loves in the humorous What Causes That.

The next morning, Polly sees the two Zanglers and realizes what has happened. Flustered, Polly leaves for the town meeting to discuss the future of the theater. Irene comes to Bobby in one final attempt to make him go back to New York with her, but Bobby rejects her, and states his love for Polly. Immensely frustrated with Bobby, Irene seduces Lank with the seductive Naughty Baby.

Bobby is all for trying the show again while Polly and most of the townsfolk think they should abandon the venture. The Fodors enter and implore the dejected townspeople to keep a Stiff Upper Lip, but by the end of the song, only Polly, Everett, Bobby and Tess still think the show should continue.

Will the magic of the old Gaiety Theater save it from its demise? Can Deadrock recover its old majesty? Does true love triumph? You’ll have to visit Ardentown to find out! I will add that the Finale is a wholly satisfying grandiose song and dance number that had the Opening Night audience on its feet multiple times. It’s so good, you’ll “...feel something down in [your] basement.”

The action at the theater doesn’t stop at Crazy for You and other musicals. The venue also hosts monthly trivia and comedy nights. Operations Manager Dan Healy is emcee for Monday night Quizzo matches, which pit the Jeopardy!-loving set against one another in team trivia. Food trucks are on site and drinks are served. The Candlelight Comedy Club invites you to the theater for an evening of food, drinks, and laughs. Local, regional, and national comics come to entertain on a fairly regular monthly basis. The next Quizzo is on May 15 and the Comedy Club is open on May 18.

This production of Crazy for You runs through June 25. Tickets are $33/person or $60/couple. While most show are on weekends, there are some mid-week matinee performances.

There’s lots of fun activity happening in Ardentown…“Who could ask for anything more?”

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