Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Luke's Reviews: Crazy For You

Hello Internet!  Remember me?  I know it's been a while and, unlike every other blogger in existence, I did not write a sentimental, reflective post on New Years Eve, nor an inspirational "forward-focused" New Years post; so now I awkwardly present my premiere post of 2013.  But to be honest, I cannot think of a better way to start off this year's posts.  For the other night I had the extreme thrill of seeing the coolest highschool on the planet (or at least in a reasonable driving radius from my house) put on a jaw-dropping performance of:

The School
Those of you who are regular readers know that I am a sucker for every single production that Pebblebrook highschool puts on.  Ever since I accidentally stumbled upon one of their shows, I've made it a point to see every major show that I can that has to do with these kids.  It is by far the most outstanding group of amateur performers that I've ever had the pleasure to see live (and better than a lot of the professionals).  To see other instances of gushing you can read my reviews of Hairspray or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The Show
To be perfectly honest, I knew very little about Crazy For You prior to coming to see the show.  I knew that it was very popular among highschools as of late, I knew that it was tap dance heavy, I had at one point googled a synopsis (and then forgot most of it), and I had heard a few songs and seen a few videos here and there.  So I was really excited about getting to see a relatively new show.  My conclusion: It's not a bad little show. I think it would be a lot of fun to perform in, but the songs weren't too catchy and had it not been a Pebblebrook show, I likely wouldn't have enjoyed it very much.  This is generally my feelings on Gershwin shows, I know they're classics and they usually have some good moments, but on the whole I yearn for some more contemporary music when it comes to theater.

The Performance:
As some of you may know, I don't generally review professional shows because I have nothing constructive to say about them, I'm usually left to gushing over every single aspect of the show.  Honestly I feel the same way about this performance.  No matter how hard I think, I don't know that I can find a single flaw in the entire performance.  The leads were spot on, the choreography was excellent, the costumes were great, and the set impressive.  But, as in most Pebblebrook shows, the show-stealer was the ensemble as a whole.  I honestly think that several of the ensemble members were even more talented than the leads (which is saying a lot) and by far the strength that ran throughout every single performer was just exemplary!  Of course, true to form, I will go ahead and give detailed descriptions of how awesome everything is, starting with the tech:

  • COSTUMING -- I must say, my metaphorical hat is off to whoever did the costumes for this show (according to the program it's "Sandy Adams and The 'Brook Backstage Design Team").  With all the changes and the massive cast, there must have been at least 100 costumes (all with 4-5 individual pieces) including "tap cowboy boots", Follies-style peacock feathers, 3 piece suits, and a couple of good old fashion cowboy hats.  And what really caught my attention was all the seemingly unnecessary costume changes that they had.  I mean, I suppose it makes sense when you think about it, but for several of the lead characters (Polly specifically) they changed clothes every day.  I mean, this makes perfect sense for real people, but rarely in musicals do the characters actually change clothes when the days pass, but this show had them and it really did add to the believably of the show.
  • HAIR/MAKEUP -- First I would like to once again try and make you realize the massive production value of this show.  I would not be surprised to learn that there were at least 50 or so wigs in this one production (in addition to some "very realistic" facial hair).  Although there were a few disconnects (I'll never get used to African-American blondes) the hair crew on this show did a fair job.  The make-up, while less pronounced, was also good, but nothing special really worth mentioning.
  • SETS - The sets for this show were actually incredibly standard.  I had no idea that there was such a standard for this show, but the sets I saw on the Civic Center stage are the exact same as I have seen in almost every Youtube video of this show I've seen.  That being said, it was still really impressive.  In addition to the fantastic backdrops they used for the theater and for New York, the set crew produced two really great environments (outside Deadrock and in the Saloon) that used multiple levels and accommodated the large cast masterfully.  I was a little bit disappointed we didn't get to see any tap dancing on top of the general store (there was a platform there that people sat on occasionally), but aside from that they really utilized every inch of the set very nicely.
  • CHOREOGRAPHY -- What is there to say about Pebblebrook's choreography?  One way of putting it is it was very possibly the best live dancing I've seen in my life (both in that it was technically impressive and artistically smart).  Another way to say it is: I can see why Pebblebrook has won Best Choreography at the Shuler Hensley Awards EVERY SINGLE YEAR IT HAS EXISTED!  But no matter how you say it, the point is it was absolutely breathtaking.  Everything from the massive ensemble numbers such as the classic "I Got Rhythm" and the mind-blowing "Slap That Bass" to the impressive partner dancing in "Shall We Dance?" was just stellar.  Even the more character driven songs like the seductive "Naughty Baby" and the comically romantic "Embraceable You" were choreographed brilliantly.  The only place where the choreography lacked was in the fake fight scenes.  Talking about it afterwards, my friends and I aren't sure whether or not it was intentionally fake looking, but it was pretty miserable.  Of course, this was just a minor distraction and came nowhere close to ruining my respect for the dancing/fighting ensemble.
  • EVERYTHING ELSE -- There really isn't much to report in the "everything else category".  The staging was average, the lighting was uneventful (except for a fun lighting effect in "Slap That Bass") and the sound effects/music seemed on time and pretty much without fault.  All in all these things didn't really add or subtract from the show, which is fine.
  • Hamilton M. (Bobby Child) - I've had the pleasure of seeing Hamilton in several shows and (with one exception) he was always playing fairly similar characters.  His strength certainly lies in over-the-top comedy and I think that was perfected for this role.  Although his singing isn't the best (it certainly isn't bad, he's better than me) and his dancing wasn't stunning, Hamilton's scenery-chewing acting really made him beautiful in his character.  He had so many perfectly timed lines and took part in what has to be one of the funniest scenes in musical theater I've ever seen (more on that later).  The way Pebblebrook shows work, the ensemble is really the star of the show, so the leads don't have to carry it.  That being said, if Hamilton was at a different school, then I do think his performance would've been good enough to carry the show.  Major props to Hamilton!
  • Taylor Kate E. (Polly Baker) - Those of you who read my review of Hairspray and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels know that I have always liked Taylor but she never really "shone."  For that reason, I was surprised to see that she got the lead, but it gives me great pleasure to say she nailed it!  At the theater a friend (who also came to see Hairspray with me and knew Taylor Kate at one point) and I both talked about noticing how much she has grown vocally since the last time we saw her.  Her acting was great, her dancing spot on, and her singing was (dare I say it) reminiscent of the great Sutton Foster (of course, whether that's the role or the actress is hard to say).  There were a few moments (particularly during Act II) where her solos were a tad boring.  It would've been nice to see some more movement and emotion while she was singing alone on the stage, but when she had partners on stage to feed off of then she was brilliant.  It was also nice to see some of her dancing chops (which hadn't been highlighted in the past) in some of her fantastic duets with Hamilton (Bobby).  All in all it was a wonderful performance by Taylor Kate and I look forward to seeing her grow even more in future performances.
  • Jennifer G. (Irene Roth) - Those who read my "Scoundrels" review know that Jennifer kind of came out of nowhere and blew me away.  Something very similar happened this time.  I didn't recognize the character as an important one (at first) and didn't even recognize the actress.  But when the time came for "Naughty Baby," her major Act II number, her talent shone through and she gave a fabulous performance.  It saddens me that she'll be graduating this year because she has consistently been one of my favorite supporting actresses, so I'd really like to see her try a lead.  But I know, better than most, that often times the supporting characters are the best and character actors/actresses are perfectly happy to stay in their comedic niche.
  • Kristian H. (Lank Hawkins) - Kristian had "that role" in the show that really is important, but doesn't sing very much at all.  This is not a knock against Kristian's singing voice, what we heard from him was good, but I think he was well casted because his acting was definitely his strong suit.  What I loved about Kristian's performance was that I felt like I recognized the character right away.  Perhaps it was the way he carried himself or spoke, but before he had finished his first scene I felt like I had a good understanding of the character.  That kind of initial transparency is something that I very rarely see and really enjoyed about his performance.  He also, like Hamilton and Jennifer (his most common scene partner) nailed the timing on a lot of comedic zingers.  Props to you Kristian!
  • Alex S. (Bela Zangler) - Regular readers of my Pebblebrook blogs know that I am a HUGE fan of Alex (previously billed as Alexander).  His characters are always so funny and so brilliantly played, and this was no exception!  I don't know if Alex has a way of getting the best characters or if he just makes all of his characters spectacular but he has somehow managed to steal every show I've ever seen him in (including when I unknowingly saw him in a middle school production).  As soon as he came on stage I was thrilled both because his character was funny right off the bat, and because he got to use the same German-ish accent that was so hilarious in "Scoundrels".  And even though his strength lied in his moments of pure hilarity, his one touching moment (giving Polly a pep talk in Act II) was really sweet and well delivered.  But by far what made Alex's character the best in the show was that BRILLIANT scene he did with Hamilton (Bobby) at the beginning of Act II (I told you I'd get back to it).  Without giving too much away, these two comic geniuses mirrored each other and spent a good 4-5 minutes in perfect synchronicity.  They hardly said a word but the physical comedy was just side-splittingly funny.  It was definitely one of the funniest moments I've ever seen on a live stage.  And the best part is, Alex is only a Junior, so I get to come back and see him for a few more productions, and I have no doubt that my admiration for him will never die!
  • Commodore P. (Moose) - First and foremost I would like to congratulate Commodore on winning the award for best name (me and the friends I went with actually voted.  And trust me, his last name is just as awesome).  Secondly, I'd like to congratulate him on his excellent performance.  For those unfamiliar with the show, Moose is kind of the village idiot (in a village full of idiots) and Commodore pulled that off brilliantly (oxymoronic pun intended).  His physicality was spot on and every one of his lines was brilliantly delivered.  In addition to these impressive skills, it's very possible that he was playing the stand-up base on stage (it could've been a recording, but if that's the case, it's just as impressive that he could fake it that well).  All in all, Commodore did an excellent job in the show and has far more to be proud of than just his epic name.
  • Anneliza C. (Tess) - In addition to being runner up in the name contest, Anneliza  gave a very solid performance.  Her role (the leader of the showgirls), while not a big one, was an important one and she really gave a good performance.  Unfortunately she didn't get a solo (although I thought her character could kind of use one), but I know from previous performances that she can sing quite well and I'm sure her voice was huge strength to the ensemble she sang with.
  • Mason L. & Alyssa M. (Eugene & Patricia Fodor) - I almost don't know what to say about these two.  They were beautifully over-the-top and had some really great moments of physical comedy.  Although I'm still not completely sure why their characters existed in the story, they were really funny.  And part of what I loved about these two is that their characters didn't really have many funny lines, they just made them so unique that they were hilarious.  It was also special for me because I remember that at my first Pebblebrook show ever, a big deal was made because Mason was one of the very few freshmen to ever get a part of his size.  Mason is a senior now so I feel as if my Pebblebrook experience is beginning to come full circle.  But nostalgic reminiscing aside, but Mason and Alyssa did a brilliant job and made their characters fun and entertaining.
  • Ensemble - As always, the ensemble was probably the best part of the show.  I feel like it sometimes takes a Pebblebrook show to show you how much an ensemble can make or break a cast.  As I said earlier, I think that some of the ensemble members were possibly even more talented than the leads, and that they were intentionally placed in the ensemble to give the cast the kick it needed.  Although, if you looked, you could find a few ensemble members that weren't quite up to par with the others (they were the ones put in the back of the dance numbers, stood behind set pieces, etc.), they did a good job (great by most other highschool's standards) and didn't take away from the show.  All in all they were still fantastic to watch!
As has now been backed up by my friends, it's impossible to go to a Pebblebrook show without being both inspired and depressed.  Crazy for You was a great show for anyone to watch with flashy dance numbers, hilarious acting, and rousing anthems  but I feel like it was especially good for actors to see because it stressed the importance of making motions big, a strong ensemble, and throwing yourself into your character 24,601 percent!  Although it wasn't my favorite of their shows, it was still wonderful and left me feeling characteristically inspired to aspire to their level, and depressed knowing it likely won't happen.  But that's Ok, I can always come back and watch them and be inspired/depressed all over again :)