Director James Brennan admits he feels a bit torn about directing the Gershwin-flavored musical "Crazy for You" rather than starring in it for Music Theatre of Wichita. After all, he sang and danced and charmed his way through the role of happy-go-lucky, tap-dancing playboy Bobby when the show was on Broadway in the early 1990s.
Now, he's guiding guest artist David Elder, who is making his MTW debut, through the role and remembering how much fun it was to perform.
"Jealous is probably too strong a word, but envious probably fits," says Brennan, who has become a regular as both director and performer for Music Theatre the past few seasons. He played the deliciously despicable Devil in "Damn Yankees" and the wily slave Pseudolus in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" as well as directed last season's "Kiss Me, Kate."
"Performing and directing the show are both fun, but in different ways," Brennan says. "As a performer, when you are alone on the stage with the music, it's one of those 'gift moments' in your life. But as a director, you get to do all the roles rather than just the one. You can be Bobby but you can also be Polly or Irene or Tess, which you'd never physically get to do on stage. It's your ideas they're bringing to life."
"Crazy for You," which won Tony Awards for best musical and best choreography in 1992 as well as Olivier Awards in the same two categories in London, opens Wednesday in Century II Concert Hall as an encore. It first played here 14 years ago — and Brennan was also the director for that version.
"This is one of the very few shows that I don't mind repeating because, while the Gershwin music is iconic, what the author (Ken Ludwig) did to create a new show with it was genius. It's an homage to Gershwin musicals of the 1930s, so I feel I'd be cheating on it if I treated it any other way."
Ludwig began with the framework of Gershwin's "Girl Crazy," then shaped a new story and added other songs from George and Ira's music trunk, repurposing them for new meanings in new situations. Among the more than 20 favorites given new life are "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "But Not for Me," "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "Stairway to Paradise." Music director Thomas W. Douglas is using a 23-piece orchestra to ensure the full sound he says Gershwin deserves.
Guest artist Elder, a Texas native who appeared on Broadway in such shows as "Beauty and the Beast," "42nd Street" and most recently, "Curtains," plays Bobby Child, the carefree and somewhat irresponsible son of a New York banking family who would rather sing and dance on stage with pretty Follies girls than join the stodgy family business.
"That's me. I can identify with that," says Elder, who grew up in Houston and Galveston, Texas, and once considered becoming a tennis pro like his father. "I didn't have formal dance training and acting classes, but I'm a sponge. If you show me what you want, I'll figure out how to do it. It's sort of a natural thing for me. I'm a self-taught gymnast, which got me hired as a 'singing tumbler' at Opryland. I've been in New York now 20 years."
When Bobby's exasperated mother gives him the task of going to supposedly uncivilized Nevada to foreclose on a failing theater, he sees his chance to put on a show to pay off the mortgage — and live his showbiz dreams. Along the way, Bobby falls for a sturdy, independent Nevada gal named Polly, daughter of the theater owner. Because Polly vows revenge against the big-city bankers bothering her father, Bobby disguises himself as a well-known Broadway producer to woo her. Complications arise, of course, when the real producer unexpectedly shows up.
Darcie Roberts, who plays Polly, has a particular fondness for the role because she made her Broadway debut in "Crazy for You."
"Polly is feisty and stubborn. She was raised by her widowed father and is the only gal for miles and miles. She has a tough exterior, but deep down she has a romantic nature," says Roberts, who just appeared in MTW's "Smokey Joe's Cafe." "She may seem like one of the guys because she has the strength to take care of business. But she wears dresses and heels, so she enjoys her feminine side."
On Broadway, Roberts was first hired to understudy Polly, but was then given additional duties as understudy for Irene, Bobby's wealthy New York fiancee, and Tess, a Follies star. On one fateful weekend, through illness and a sudden snowstorm, Roberts ended up playing all three roles: Polly for the Saturday matinee, Irene for Saturday night and Tess for Sunday matinee.
"I was prepared to go on for any one of them, but to do all three of them back-to-back was a real challenge," Roberts says with a laugh. "It's a really busy show with lots to do, anyway. Surprisingly, the problem I ran into was remembering where to be for the curtain calls for each character because they were different. For one show, two of us tried to be in the same spot."
Other major cast members here include Broadway veteran Matthew Shepard (Inspector Javert in MTW's "Les Miserables") as flamboyant Follies producer Bela Zangler, Kimberly Faure as Bobby's New York fiancee Irene, Kaleigh Cronin as showgirl Tess, Mary Lou Phipps-Winfrey as Bobby's haughty mother, John Boldenow as Polly's down-home father and Timothy and Karen Robu as a couple of eccentric British tourists who stumble upon Bobby's last-ditch show.
If you go
'Crazy For You'
What: Gershwin-flavored musical and third show of the summer for Music Theatre of Wichita
Where: Century II Concert Hall
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Evening, $20-$55; matinee, $18-$47.
For more information, call 316-265-3107 or go online at www.mtwichita.org.