BEVERLY -- To open North Shore Music Theatre's season, "Crazy for You" arrives still bearing the slightly cheeky slogan it bore in 1992: "the new Gershwin musical." It's not so new anymore, but the songs are still by the irreplaceable George and Ira Gershwin, and that's its principal charm.
In that Broadway era weighed down by the overblown likes of "Cats" and "Les Miserables," writer Ken Ludwig and director Mike Ockrent had the happy idea of retooling the 1930 Gershwin musical "Girl Crazy," ditching all but five of the show's original numbers and plucking other gems (familiar and obscure) from the Gershwin brothers' repertoire. Never mind that the Gershwins had been dead for years -- fans and critics embraced "their" new work with joy. Having the then relatively unknown Susan Stroman handle the choreography didn't hurt.
The show remains likable and light, with its gossamer-thin yet implausible plot (boy banker with dreams of the stage meets Nevada cowgirl and puts on a show) providing just enough adhesive from song to song. But it takes a delicate touch to keep this meringue delectable, and unfortunately North Shore's production sometimes feels a little heavy.
Director and choreographer Richard Stafford , who delighted Beverly audiences last year with "Singin' in the Rain," shows off some similarly dazzling tap sequences and athletically vigorous ensembles here. While that felt right for the muscular classic made famous by Gene Kelly, however, the lighter insouciance of the Gershwins calls for something closer to Fred Astaire.
That's the kind of touch that shows up when Stafford sticks close to some of Stroman's original ideas, as when the singing cowpokes use slender ropes to turn their chorus-girl partners into living instruments for "Slap That Bass," or in the inspired use of metal pans and pickaxes for the rousing, irresistible "I Got Rhythm" that closes the first act. And the "Les Miz" parody -- involving a red flag raised over a "barricade" of gilt chairs -- still draws a chuckle.
Too often, though, this production feels louder and broader than it should. Sure, Ludwig's book is full of painfully corny jokes and gleefully exaggerated characters; it celebrates the Broadway musical tradition in part by sending it up. But it also needs real tenderness, especially between the young lovers, to keep the sweeter ballads floating in the air.
As the winsome cowgirl, Polly Baker, Amanda Watkins is just too brassy to steal our hearts. (Yes, the original "Girl Crazy" featured a young Ethel Merman, but that's not quite what's called for here.) Though she has a strong voice and moves well, her sassy twang grows tiresome when it's piled on too thick. Jeffry Denman gives the dancing banker, Bobby Child, a lively twinkle, and he's especially fine in the lilting "Nice Work If You Can Get It." But that's one of the few moments when he fully achieves the relaxed nonchalance of the Gershwin tunes.
The rest of the cast pushes hard, too, making every wisecrack crack as loudly as possible. Pulling back occasionally would make it more fun.
Even so, for anyone who wishes they still made musicals the way they used to, here's a chance to watch and listen as some attractively costumed, talented performers sing and dance their way through more than two hours of classic songs. They can't take that away from you.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com.