Talk to a theatre director about shows that they would love to get their hands-on and you’ll invariably get responses like Hamlet or Death of a Salesman. For Vancouver’s Barbara Tomasic though the answer may surprise you, as it is being able to direct Crazy For You, this year’s holiday musical at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.
“I find it really exciting and it has been a dream to direct a big musical like this,” says Tomasic who not only appreciates having the opportunity to work with its large cast of 24, but also on a show that has a very personal connection for her.
“It is my father’s favourite musical,” says Tomasic. “I bought him the music some time ago and he fell in love with the soundtrack.”
Being able to direct a show that brings such joy to her 83 year-old father though is bittersweet, as Tomasic reveals that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and despite his love for the music, he has yet to actually see Crazy For You on stage and his illness may very well keep him from seeing her production.
“My dad is very much why I love musical theatre,” she says. “My mom would play opera and he was the one who always playing musical theatre tunes. That is why my love for musical theatre is so deep. So he is very much with me during this process.” [Dec 12 update: Tomasic has advised that her father will indeed be in the audience; she says: “My Dad is able to see the show this Saturday! I’m so pleased.”]
Set in the 1930s, Crazy for You is the story of Bobby Child, the son of a wealthy New York banking family, who begrudgingly works at the family bank while he plugs away at his theatre career. After being s forced to foreclose on a property in the middle of nowhere, Bobby finds that his love of theatre and the love of his life are waiting for him in the most unlikely of places.
A loose reworking of the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, it is a show that straddles the line between jukebox and traditional musical theatre as it reuses many of that shows songs and others from the Gershwin songbook to tell its story. But for Tomasic it is in combination with Ken Ludwig’s surprisingly contemporary book that makes the show so successful.
“All the tunes are recognizable and it is definitely a Gershwin showcase, but the script is definitely modern, the jokes are modern and it certainly doesn’t feel dated in anyway,” she says. “We did a little showcase at Lansdowne Mall recently and there were definitely those that instantly recognized the music, but there is such an energy to the show that was so appealing to audiences as well.”
Not just the Gershwin’s greatest hits, Tomasic is also excited about introducing audiences to some of the brother’s B-sides.
“Some of the music will be a surprise, but the way the show is constructed, you lead in with ones that you know and then come the ones that you don’t,” she explains. “But the music really tells the story and while I think it will be challenge, audiences will come out humming some of the other lesser known tunes as well.”
What the marketers like to refer to as “screwball comedy”, Tomasic admits that while the show’s farce – with its mistaken identities, physical comedy and slamming doors – will make it memorable, it is the love story that she found most unexpected.
“I’m surprised how honest the love story is,” she says. “It is very much because of the actors that we have cast that we’ve worked so hard to find the real love story, which is very honest. It is very touching and very relatable as opposed to cheesy.”
As for how she thinks her father might react if he has an opportunity to see the show? “I think he would be very pleased”.
Crazy For You plays Richmond’s Gateway Theatre ( 6500 Gilbert Rd, Richmond) December 4-31. Visit http://gatewaytheatre.com for tickets and information.