by Michael Bowen

Walking alone on a street, a woman sings to herself about her newfound love: "Just one look at you / My heart grew tipsy in me / You and you alone / Bring out the gypsy in me." Put starkly, it sounds pretty corny. But supply that woman with a motive (the city boy newly in her life) and a setting (a rough-and-tumbleweed Western town) -- not to mention Deborah Hansen's skillful 17-piece orchestra -- and a theater can begin to assemble the idealized concoction that is the American musical comedy.

In the current production of Crazy for You at the Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre, Katie Strohmaier is that woman, and she sings George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You" with longing and beauty. The city boy is Chris Warren Murry as Bobby Child, who has come out to Deadrock, Nev., to put on a show. Together, they provide the strong central performances that any musical with a silly plot -- no, check that -- that any musical period needs.

Actually, Ken Ludwig's book, often criticized as a mere pastiche for stringing together all the famous Gershwin songs, is actually no worse than the usual run of musical comedy plots. Boy has a dream, pursues it, meets cute girl (who naturally at first loathes him); they get a show on its feet and in the process fall for one another. Two pairs of subplot lovers also connect, so it's a triple wedding and yes, folks, we have an excuse for a big production number in the finale. The audience doesn't go away enlightened at all about human nature, but we are reminded, gee whiz, of love's importance in this crazy world of ours, and, golly, those tunes sure are hummable.

Still, there's a better-than-average supply of one-line zingers. For example, the second-fiddle couple doesn't much care for each other at first, either. Irene says, "If I were married to you, I'd kill myself." And Lank replies, "Where's the nearest preacher?" Or this: "You'll love the wide-open spaces [here]." "I have no desire to live inside your head."

Naturally, hopscotching from song to song requires some corner-cutting. When Bobby's fiancee Irene informs him that they've been engaged for five years now (to him this is news?), the exposition plods along and the creaks are audible.

But with lead performers like these, a plodding plot doesn't really register. It's hard to say whether Murry's performance is most notable for his singing, tapping, clowning, mugging or ballroom dancing. He's got it all. There's a clever scene ("Losing Her is What Causes That") in which Murry as Bobby Child and David Gigler as Bela Zangler, dressed alike, both temporarily lovelorn, mimick one another.

In our dreams, as we romance our partners and spouses, we are all Fred Astaire, we are all Ginger Rogers. For summer stock, Murry and his partner, Strohmaier, capably generate a decent semblance of that Art Deco romance and style. Strohmaier, moreover, has the range to be convincing both as the Annie Oakley tough gal and as the lovelorn lass. In all the big numbers -- "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "But Not For Me" -- she's exquisite.

Cherie Price, who choreographed the production and doubles as the fiancee Irene, has provided some inventive touches. For example, in the bust-out extravaganza just before intermission, "I've Got Rhythm," Price has concocted some Busby Berkeley moves complete with sliding prospecting pans and chorus girls swung on giant axes and played like giant bass strings. For the same show-stopper, costumer Judith McGiveney has provided the chorus girls with teal halter tops and pillbox hats; even more amusingly, she's outfitted the Nevada cowboy chorus with matching teal vests.

In Price's big number as Irene ("Naughty Baby"), she lords it comically like a dominatrix over her intended man-target, Lank Hawkins, the ineffectual villain of the piece (played with entertaining snottiness by Frank Jewett).

Among the chorus, there are some standouts: Meghan Maddox for her squeaky-voiced daffiness; Troy Nickerson (as "Moose") for portraying a meathead who can nonetheless contribute to the rhythm section; and Darcy Wright for her singing and movement as one of the pink tutu dancers with the golden curls.

Peter Hardie, in typical fashion, does wonders in creating a versatile set that can be swiveled about to portray, within seconds, both the exterior and interior of the Deadrock saloon.

Look for the number of inventive ways director Roger Welch has Murry and Gigler incorporate a couple of simple chairs into meaningful visual parallels during their twin-mirroring number. Welch knows how to sketch in visual information quickly. When four Nevada hicks first appear onstage, their body language -- two heads dangle upside down over the lip of the stage -- indicates their lassitude even before the lyrics to "Bidin' My Time" fill us in.

Welch is the someone who has watched over this production. You can't take that away from him. It's nice work, if you can get it, but it's not for me. Things are looking up in Coeur d'Alene, because tonight's the night. Shall we dance? I've got the rhythm. Oh, just go see the show.

American Inheritance: Unpacking World War II @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through May 23
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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.