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CP's tap-stravaganza 

Crazy about Crazy for You

OK, so maybe I went a wee bit soft on the ending of CPCC Summer Theatre's last stage offering, Dial M for Murder. Playwright Friedrich Knott would have us believe that British jurisprudence allows for the release of a convicted murderess on the day of her execution to help a skeptical Scotland Yard inspector prove her innocence. Alfred Hitchcock compounded the impossibility in the film adaptation by casting Grace Kelly: What judge with eyes in his head would have sentenced this princess to death in the first place?

Just two weeks later, CP is expecting my leniency again in Crazy for You, the tap-crammed musical capper to the company's 35th season. Polly Baker, the darling of Deadrock, Nev., has decided -- as a full-house at her father's theater waits for her to star in a musical -- that she cannot live for an instant longer without Bobby Child. Maybe she shouldn't have shunned him after he showed his lovesick devotion to her in every way he could, including saving Dad's theater from foreclosure.

So with her loopy pappy's blessing, she rides off to the station at almost the exact moment that Bobby, with his Mom at his heels, arrives from New York after experiencing a similar epiphany. Bobby adores Polly and the stage so much that he's willing to travel across the continent to face her irrational resistance one more time. Yes, a cushy banking career in Manhattan is that horrible.

Now guess what? Polly's car runs out of gas, forcing her to miss her train and return to Deadrock. Everybody is there, including that never-seen Western theater audience with the endless patience. So the showgirls and papa huddle up and decide on a plan. They will convince the heartbroken Polly, who still believes her Bobby is three time zones away, to change into her dead mother's wedding dress and stroll out into the middle of the street -- while that audience continues to wait. How? Why?

Doesn't matter. This is a George and Ira Gershwin musical, dammit! Ordinary laws of time, space, logic and probability need not apply. When Polly reaches her spot on Main Street, downstage left, all will be well -- if for no other reason than the necessary 2 hours and 30 minutes have elapsed when all wasn't.

If you're reading on Wednesday that, yes, I've granted another pardon to these shameless CP transgressors, rest assured that verdicts came far more swiftly from patrons on opening night. At intermission, I only heard one doubting remark amid the high tide of enthusiasm: Could Act 2 be as good as what we'd already seen?

A fair question after the cavalcade of tap-stravaganzas choreographed by Eddie Mabry and executed by an amazingly precise ensemble bursting with youthful exuberance. "Shall We Dance?" sets the bar high, and "Slap That Bass" sets it higher as Bobby, impersonating impresario Bela Zangler, convinces a troupe of layabout cowpokes that they can stage a musical. As for "I Got Rhythm," the showstopper that brings down the curtain on Act 1, applause was so loud and sustained that Gerald Colbert, portraying the real Zangler, gave up on gasping out his first line in Deadrock.

"Water!" for anyone who missed it.

Colbert is one of a multitude of Charlotte stage vets who shine in character roles amid the glitzy chorines. Kevin Campbell does the doting Daddy Baker, ever reminiscing about the late wife's stageworthiness, while Elyse Williams is the patrician Momma Child -- a match that devotees of Wife Swap will treasure.

Tootling in toward the end of Act 2 are Craig Estep and Anne Lambert as the Fodors, those lovably oddball British guidebook writers. They seem to be deadwood in Deadrock until they ignite the unlikeliest big production number of the night, "Stiff Upper Lip," topped off by a grandiose Les Miz tableau.

Newcomers in the starring roles quickly prove they're capable of the heavy lifting. Anyone who saw Nic Bryan in the title role of Aladdin will find more Jim Carrey-like antics as Bobby Child shuttles between his romantic lead and winsome comedy personae. As Polly, Julianne Katz only slightly overshadows her co-star in her dreamy vocals -- most especially "Someone to Watch Over Me" -- and her nimble tapping bravura.

Most importantly, the chemistry between Katz and Bryan burns all evening long, nowhere more effectively than in "Embraceable You."

Director Tom Hollis has assembled a helluva team. Aside from a clunky wooden limo, production designer Bob Croghan's sets are adequate, but his costumes -- especially for the showgirls -- are sensational, and I can't remember musical director Drina Keen and the CPCC Orchestra ever sounding better.

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