Saturday, January 17, 2015

Zangler's Follies

That's me, center, as Zangler with the company in the Act One Finale, "I Got Rhythm"

As of this writing, we are closing out the first week of our run of "Crazy For You" at Riverside Theatre in lovely Vero Beach, Florida.  I can't tell you what a tonic it has been to spend the first weeks of the new year in a warm and sunny place and in such a warm and sunny show! Click here for a look at a great montage of moments from this sparkling production!

I knew "Crazy For You" would be fun--it's a bubble of a show, a real love letter to the classic musicals of the 1930s;  but nothing prepared me for the rapturous response of the audience!  Our opening was as electric as any I have experienced.  Our production is based on the original as brought to life by Susan Stroman-- a tried and true formula made fresh and heartfelt by the expert work of our choreographer Deanna Dys and our director, the great Jimmy Brennan.  I saw Jimmy play Bobby Child on Broadway 20 years ago, and he and Deanna were both a part of that original Tony-winning production. Their history with the piece combined with their own creative gifts breathe beautiful new life into it.   We are blessed to have extraordinary dancers tapping up a storm, and Drew Nellessen and Abby Church, two triple threat performers, playing the lead roles of Bobby and Polly.  Reviews are ecstatic, audiences are on their feet every performance, and the show is rapidly selling out.

"Crazy For You" is also especially delightful for me because not only does it hearken back to the frothy fare of Depression-era Broadway, but it also evokes those amazing musical films of the 30s, art deco extravaganzas starring the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Being a die-hard classic movie fan, I couldn't help looking for inspiration from those films as I created my characterization of Broadway impresario Bela Zangler, a sweet treat of a part.

Adolphe Menjou
Zangler is clearly based on Flo Ziegfeld, a great showman who perfected the follies revue, dripping with glamour and gorgeous showgirls.  He also has about him the qualities of those womanizing Broadway producers of early 1930's backstage musicals; mature rou├ęs cheating on their wives, plying pretty young ladies with champagne and promises of stardom.  In this respect, my Zangler owes a little to the suave Adolphe Menjou, who played a number of these roles, most notably in the classic "Stage Door." 

Erik Rhodes

Zangler also has the qualities of the 'continental' second man who figured so often in Astaire/Rogers vehicles-- a handsome, European type who we know will never get the leading lady.  Often these characters had exaggerated accents and were given fun comic business as the wool is pulled over their eyes by the leading man so he can covertly woo the starlet.  In the Astaire/Rogers films, often this second man was played by handsome and funny Erik Rhodes.  He played an Italian gigolo, Rodolfo Tonetti, in "The Gay Divorcee" and an Italian fashion designer, Alberto Beddini, in "Top Hat."  In crafting my flamboyant Hungarian Mr. Zangler, I found Rhodes's rolled 'r's and animated flourishes a great inspiration.

I'm just having a ball playing this guy, who disappears for most of Act One, but returns in Act Two to be given one of the best scenes and numbers in the show-- the drunken mirror act with Bobby, "What Causes That?".  It's a show stopper, and I am so happy to have a talent like Drew Nellessen as my partner in crime.  Shows like "Crazy For You" put us directly in touch with the spirit of those old films and fluffy Broadway shows where pretty girls, great Gershwin songs, and high energy tap dancing diverted audiences from the Great Depression and into a world of fantasy.  I can't deny that being in warm and easy Vero Beach while the Northeast is shivering through a polar vortex feels equally like a world of fantasy.  But I am not complaining!