Fort Hays State University theater group puts on a crazy-good performance


Special to The Hays Daily News

Gershwin classics, performed by a new generation, sealed the deal for this weekend's "Crazy for You," musical production by the Fort Hays State University Music and Theatre Department.

Polished vocals, snazzy dancing and witty one-liners gave the nearly-packed house of Felten-Start Theatre a night of entertainment to top off a nippy Oktoberfest evening. The newly refurbished theater in Malloy Hall, equipped with a new rigging system, demonstrated that music and theater are alive and well -- and highly appreciated in Hays, America.

"Crazy for You," from a book by Ken Ludwig, is a rewrite of the 1930s Gershwin musical "Girl Crazy." It tells a familiar "let's put on a show," story interspersed with snappy wisecracks.

Set in two locations the show contrasts the lackluster, dried up town of Deadrock, Nev., and the glitzy New York City's Zangler's Theatre. Featuring a band of lethargic singing cowboys and a group of sparkly show girls the show clips along with plot twists and punchlines.

L.J. Kemper, Topeka junior, stars as Bobby Child, a mother-berated banker who just wants to be a star. Kemper showed the grace of a physical comedian much along the lines of Dick VanDyke or Chevy Chase in the first act when Kemper repeatedly fainted with heat exhaustion after his arrival in Deadrock. He was sent to the God-forsaken desert by his mother to foreclose on the Gaiety Playhouse where fate provided an opportunity to sing, dance and find true love.

Engaging and light on his feet, Kemper became a "poser" as he transformed with a fake beard, wig and Hungarian accent into Bela Zangler, theater owner. He set about on dual missions to change cowpokes into stage performers and win the girl of his dreams.

Backdrops in muted tones set the parched mood for the Deadrock scenes, and with the help of the cast, the scenes transitioned quickly and efficiently from dusty streets to a wild west saloon.

Child's fiancé, the nasty Irene Roth, played by Jill Herbert, Wichita sophomore, balanced out the sweetness of the show's heroine Polly Baker, Hayley Funk, Quinter junior. Staying somewhere above the crudeness of Deadrock, Funk's pastel voice fit the bill for the classics: "Embraceable You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Herbert was provocative as she performed the sultry number "Naughty Baby," putting the "mis" in "misbehaving."

As Act II rolled out, the question was "what could play better than one drunken Zangler?" The answer, of course, was "two drunken Zanglers." Alexander Stout , Kanopolis senior, as Bela Zangler and Kemper as his imposter, after a bender at the Deadrock saloon, eventually discovered one another. However, not before an outrageously funny mirror scene right out of a Marx Brother's movie.

Timing was everything, as the two gargled, belched and spilled out their lovesick angst throughout the scene.

"I am beside myself," Zangler said slurring the joke, while the two joined in harmony for "What Causes That."

It was clear that hours of hard work by the entire cast, director Tomme Williams and orchestra director, Terry Crull paid big dividends for the FHSU Music and Theatre Department production. Cast members included: Lank Hawkins, played by Timothy Tarkelly, Hays; Everett Baker, played by Dusten St. Germain, Hays; Lottie Child, played by Hannah Keil, Hays; and Tess, played by Rebecca Urban, Hays. In addition, the lineup of dancers, cowboys, orchestra, and costume, set and lighting crews worked together for a top-notch performance.

Dawne Leiker is a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.