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Review: Crazy For You at the Liverpool Empire ***

Given the daily dose of angst and turmoil in the real world, an evening of escapism at the theatre could be just the ticket.

And with a convoluted plot of stupendously silly proportions, Crazy For You – playwright Ken Ludwig’s reworking of the Gershwin’s 1930 musical Girl Crazy – certainly ticks the escapist box.

Anyone who remembers actor Tom Chambers’ Astaire-homage showdance in the Strictly Come Dancing final a few years back will know he has twinkle toes. And here he tips and taps and soft-shoe shuffles across the stage with obvious glee as soppy hero Bobby – the unwilling scion of a cut-throat banking business, who dreams of being a Broadway song and dance man.

Sent to the one-horse town of Deadrock, Nevada, by his domineering mother so he can foreclose on the local theatre there, he instead falls head over heels with the owner’s daughter Polly (Charlotte Wakefield) and determines to win the girl and save the Gaiety by putting on a show.

Along with the hoofing, Chambers gets to exercise his comedy muscles, with much dressing up, silly voices, and any number of energetic acrobatic pratfalls as he battles for Polly’s affections and against the odds to stage a revue with the aid of some holidaying Follies and local yokels.

The mishaps, mistaken identities, love quadrangles and rivalries are played out to the Gershwin brothers’ wonderful songs, or some of them at least, including Things Are Looking Up, Someone to Watch Over Me, Embraceable You and Nice Work if You Can Get It – some of which were in the original Girl Crazy and some of which Ludwig purloined from other sources.

As so often these days, the music is played live on stage by the cast – Follies girls wield violins and various brass instruments while trying to high-kick and sing at the same time. Slap that bass? Yes, and play that flute, saxophone, piano and clarinet (the sinuous melody of Rhapsody in Blue’s opening bars opens the show) at the same time.

They must have hidden reserves of energy given the number of two-show days this week.

Chambers, who possesses a light but pleasantly melodic singing voice, gives it plenty of energy and Wakefield injects Polly with a rootin’, tootin’, feisty Calamity Jane vibe.

However, despite the razzmatazz and movement around the set, and the music and dancing, Crazy For You still feels like it is lacking a little something – perhaps that extra spark, extra twinkle, that would lift it from solid to spectacular.

Incidentally, if you want to see a rather different Ken Ludwig production, the Playhouse is staging the UK premiere of his Baskerville – a Sherlock Holmes Mystery this Christmas.

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