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'CRAZY' LEGS : Choreographer of Tony-Winning Gershwin Musical Says: Who Could Ask for Anything More?

August 26, 1993|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers art for The Times Orange County Edition.

Man and woman, dancing as one, swirling, gliding, dipping. Intoxicating. That's the stuff Susan Stroman likes the best in "Crazy for You," the Broadway hit she choreographed.

"After all is said and done," Stroman said in a recent phone interview from her New York City home, "after the big tap numbers and the big acrobatic numbers, when a man and a woman dance close together . . . it gives me the chills. There's nothing more romantic than singing and dancing about being in love."

The national tour of "Crazy for You" opened Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center and continues through Sept. 5.

Stroman, a former Broadway dancer, won a Tony Award last year for her work on the musical. "Crazy for You," with songs by George and Ira Gershwin, garnered additional Tonys for best musical and best costumes (William Ivey Long), and it has won other major awards as well.

It also drew a rave from New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, something that is perhaps harder to come by than any mantel trophy.

The musical comedy, Rich wrote, takes "some of the greatest songs ever written for Broadway and Hollywood and (reawakens) the impulse that first inspired them."

It has a sweet, simple plot, courtesy of playwright Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor") and is very loosely based on "Girl Crazy," a 1930 Gershwin hit.

Essentially, it's a boy-wins-girl affair set in a sleepy Nevada mining town. It's there in Deadrock where the boy--a dancing fiend from New York--stages a Big Show and saves from foreclosure a glorious long-dark old theater that belongs to the girl's father.

Leggy chorines, glittery costumes, burlesque humor and rousing and romantic dance numbers abound, all set to such popular Gershwin standards as "I Got Rhythm," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Embraceable You." Michael Ockrent, known for "Me and My Gal," another '30s-style success, directs.

"We wanted to develop a musical that was recession-proof," said Stroman, who has choreographed off-Broadway shows and dances for New York City Opera productions. "People want to have a good time; they want to laugh and forget their troubles."

Creating a more "contemporary" vehicle was another objective.

"I don't believe an audience wants to see a musical where there's no reason for the dancing," Stroman said. "In 'Crazy for You,' the dancing is motivated by the plot," or advances the plot. "You don't have a doorbell ringing and 400 girls running out and kicking up their heels."

Her extensive use of props--from telephones to pickaxes to bentwood chairs--is likewise integral to the action or to a character's behavior.

"A prop is always an extension of a character; it's never extraneous," said Stroman, who learned as a child to move with accouterments by twirling batons and juggling when she wasn't taking tap, ballet or jazz classes.

Broadway musical touring companies sometimes feature second-string talent. But the leads in the "Crazy for You" road crew, James Brennan and Karen Ziemba, helped Stroman produce a new and improved version, the choreographer said.

"Not only did I re-create the Broadway choreography for them, I developed it further, in line with their (specific abilities). They are very strong dancers, technically, so it isn't just a re-creation, it's Broadway-plus."

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