EXCLUSIVE: Susan Stroman, the celebrated Broadway director and choreographer, has revealed that an acclaimed UK revival of musical comedy Crazy for You, which features show-stopping numbers from the George and Ira Gershwin songbook, will transfer from the Chichester Festival Theater into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LW Theatres-owned Gillian Lynne Theatre for a strictly limited 30-week West End season from June 24. Opening night is July 3.
It’s a coming home of sorts for Stroman, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography when Crazy for You opened on Broadway in 1992. That production was directed by Mike Ockrent, who co-conceived the show with Ken Ludwig, writer of the original book. The show collected the Best Musical Tony and then the Olivier Trophy when it moved to London in 1993.
Ludwig has added contemporary touches to his book — and trimmed 15 minutes off the running time.
Stroman’s crazy about her leads, praising Anderson for the contemporary edge that she brings to the role of Polly Walker, a denizen of Deadrock, an abandoned mining town in Nevada. “She brings a great heart to the piece,” Stroman said of Anderson, who has played Glinda in international tours of Wicked and was a key cast member of Sunny Afternoon, which featured music and lyrics by Ray Davies of the Kinks.
However, Stroman was beside herself with glee when it came to Stemp. He plays Broadway wannabe Bobby Child, who travels to Deadrock to deliver a foreclosure notice on the town’s once-thriving Gaiety Theater. Once there, Child also assumes the identity of Broadway producer Bela Zangler. A moment of comic genius arises when Child’s Zangler meets the real Zangler (Tom Edden), who’s also moving to the Gillian Lynne Theatre. In the scene, both are inebriated, and much joyful confusion ensues.
Stroman — who knows a thing or two about theater leading men, having worked with the likes of Harry Groener on Crazy for You thirty years ago in NYC, and Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Roger Bart on the Mel Brooks musical The Producers — found it easy to place Stemp in the pantheon of great song-and-dance performers.
“My goodness, I would really have to go back to film song-and-dance men,” she declared. “He’s really like a cross between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. He’s a combo platter, and he is able to do everything that they could do — and to be quite honest, he’s probably the best song-and-dance man I’ve ever worked with.”
The five-star raves that critics gave Crazy for You at Chichester all highlighted Stemp’s incredible qualities, attesting to Stroman’s assertion.
Not only that, Stemp also is producer Cameron Mackintosh’s go-to musical theater leading man.
Mackintosh cast Stemp, then an unknown having been in an international touring production of Mamma Mia!, in the musical Half a Sixpence that played in Chichester and the West End. That version was filmed, renamed as Kipps: The New Half a Sixpence Musical, and screened on Sky Arts.
The impresario swooped in on Stemp again, this time picking him to play Bert in Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward. The actor continues in Mary Poppins until January. He took time out to do Crazy for You in the summer.
Stroman also noted how “gracious” Stemp is with fellow actors, always ensuring that the spotlight shines on co-stars Anderson and Edden. “He knows when to give them the spotlight, and a lot of comics don’t. I’ve been there too when a comic won’t give it over to the person next to him, but Charlie is very sharing onstage because he knows the journey of the whole piece, and is very respectful of the journey,” Stroman told Deadline today.
Stroman was inspired, she told us, to rethink her choreography for both Stemp and Anderson to “show them in their best light and show the audience everything that they could do.”
Both she and Crazy for You producer Michael Harrison also were impressed with Stemp’s comic chops. “I know he can sing, I know he can dance and act, but it’s how his comic abilities came out,” ,” Harrison told us. “The comedy was just fantastic, and he held the Chichester audience in the palm of his hand just to get laughs. He’s got that rare comic touch.”
Harrison saw Stemp develop his funny bone when he directed the actor in three holiday pantomime shows at the fabled London Palladium: Dick Whittington, Snow White and Pantoland at the Palladium. “Don’t forget that Charlie’s worked with a lot of great people who are funny and he had that run in Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters, and they’re funny. This is a career-defining role for him; it’s going to catapult him, isn’t it?” Harrison asked without writing for an answer.
Harrison has just formed a collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber to produce new musicals and feels that Stemp deserves to have one written for him. “In the old days they did write shows for stars, though it doesn’t seem to happen anymore,” he said.
Stroman’s already on it. “Oh, my gosh, I would love to produce a new piece for Charlie, and I do have a few ideas,” she told Deadline. “I will say that when I see somebody like that, they do inspire storytelling.”
Harrison added that Stemp has first refusal of playing Bobby Child in New York should he and fellow producers Joey Parnes and Sally Horchow, daughter of original Crazy For You producer Roger Horchow, decide to transfer the show to Broadway. “I won’t do it without Charlie,” Harrison insisted.
Tickets for Crazy for You — which features Gershwin numbers “I Got Rhythm, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Embraceable You,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It” — go on sale Friday, at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. It’s named for legendary choreographer and director Gillian Lynne, who created the breakthrough choreography for Cats, which originated at the Gillian Lynne when it was known as the New London Theatre. Stroman said “it seemed to all make so much sense to me” for Crazy For You to go to the Gillian Lynne. “She was always such a champion of mine and always went out of her way to connect with me … and when we started out it was such a male-dominated field, and so I was quite proud to know her,” she said.
Stroman spoke to us before heading to a final audition session for forthcoming Broadway musical New York, New York, previewing from March.
Matthew Craig, who played Deadrock rogue Lank Hawkins at Chichester, also will transfer into the Gillian Lynne.
The creative team includes set design by Beowulf Boritt, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Ken Billington, musical direction by Alan Williams and sound by Kai Harada.