CRAZY FOR YOU

These are perilous times. Is this bouncy, euphoric, escapist musical appropriate for such a time? In his customary opening-night pre-curtain spree, South Bay Cities Civic Light Opera impresario/CEO James Blackman announced a decision, taken shortly after the day that lives in infamy, that it is appropriate, and that, of some 140 musicals that could have been chosen, Crazy for You-- American to its core, studded with Gershwin classics-- is the best possible. Blackman promised to lift hearts and spirits to "send you out of here feeling 100 percent better." And he delivered. This is just what the doctor ordered.

And this show has been doctored considerably since its inception in 1930 as Girl Crazy. Decades later it emerged with a new book by farceur Ken Ludwig, jam-packed with gems from the Gershwin oeuvre whether or not they were in the original show, first seen here at the Shubert in 1992.

That one was good. This one is better. Creatively directed and choreographed by Alan Coats, with no false step or fumble, the show is superb in every detail, and I have fallen in love all over again with this company. I am also in love with dancer/ actor/singer David Engel, so effortlessly ingratiating as New York scion of wealth Bobby Childs. He inherits a dilapidated, potentially elegant theatre in the sleepy old mining town of Deadrock, Nev., is overcome with love at first sight of postmistress Polly Baker, and proves to be a master of physical comedy. He dances like Fred Astaire, sings "They Can't Take That Away From Me" to stir memories of a young Bob Hope, and is so irrepressibly irresistible you just have to love him. His tipsy downstairs spill, a tour de force of comic timing, is closely followed by a hilarious split-second coordination with Ira Denmark as his mirror image Bela Zangler-- in which Denmark gets a big laugh from an alert audience with the bemused comment, "I am beside myself!"

Blackman has worked a great big American flag into a climactic scene of gilt chairs piled on a table from which Bobby and Polly manage a breathtaking descent without mishap. Highlights and delights include Tracy Lore's snooty Manhattan socialite going after John Bisom's good-looking, gap-toothed saloonkeeper in a "Naughty Baby" seduction that sizzles. A bevy of cute pink cotton-candy chorines spills forth from a chauffeur-driven Rolls on a neon-sparkling Great White Way. A bunch of the rootin', tootin' shootin' boys whoop it up in Lance's Wild West saloon. They slap that bass, they got rhythm.

More delights: Stephanie Block, as wholesome, spunky Polly, singing "But Not for Me" in a clear, sweet soprano, musical direction by Steven Smith of an 18-member orchestra, and Tom Ruzika's superlative lighting. Also opulent costumes by Thomas Marquez, ranging from no-nonsense Western duds to creations that might have graced 1930s Vogue covers or the most elaborate of Ziegfeld Follies.

Blackman issues a rallying cry in his program insert: "We are Americans. We are brave. And we are unafraid." Crazy for You is a joyous, triumphant affirmation.

"Crazy for You," presented by the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. Tues.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Sept. 22-Oct. 7. $35-50. (310) 372-4477.