Playwright Ken Ludwig

Following its most successful season ever last year, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre will be hoping to continue its record-breaking ways with its final show for the 2011 season, Crazy For You.

Running until September 10, this musical comedy brings together the creative team behind Hello, Dolly! and an all-star cast of stage and screen actors such as Sean Palmer, Kim Medcalf, Harriet Thorpe and Michael McKell.

I caught up with its playwright, the Olivier award-wining Ken Ludwig, to find out his thoughts on this latest version.

Tell us about Crazy For You

‘It’s a musical I wrote in the early 1990s. A producer came to see me while my play Lend Me a Tenor was on Broadway and told me that he had acquired the rights to use the songs of George and Ira Gershwin in a musical. He said that he’d been a fan of the Gershwins all his life and wanted to produce a “new” musical using their songs, and he asked me to write the book for the show. Believe it or not, I twice said no because I was busily writing my next play. Fortunately, the producer was persistent. I based the book very slightly on the George-Ira musical Girl Crazy from the early 1930s; and Crazy For You went on to play for four years on Broadway and three in London, and won the Olivier and Tony Awards for Best Musical of the Year.’

What can audiences expect?

Crazy For You is a light-hearted comedy full of wonderful Gershwin classics and fantastic dancing. It’s set in the 1930s when a New York banker, who wants to be in show business, goes out west to Dead Rock, Nevada, to foreclose on an old opera house. When he gets there, he gets romantically involved with the only girl in town and decides to save the theatre by putting on a show.’

What is great about this particular staging?

‘Even though the original staging was so on-the-button that it has become somewhat iconic, Timothy Sheader, Stephen Mears and Gareth Valentine – the director, choreographer and music director – have elected to look at the show from a slightly different angle in order to make it feel fresh and new. This has given me an opportunity to write some new lines and expand on a few characters, which has been a very exciting and enjoyable process.’

What inspires you?

‘I’m inspired mainly by the great plays that I’ve read and seen all my life. When I see a great production of She Stoops to Conquer or The Rivals – to say nothing of the greatest of the great, the Shakespeare high comedies – I have this visceral desire to try to create something even a smidgen like them. Art does matter. It makes the world a better, happier place and it inspires us to be kinder, better human beings. I genuinely believe this. And trying to write plays in this tradition is my way of trying to change the world in the right direction.’

What is your greatest achievement?

‘I’m most proud of being commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to write a play for them. The play was Shakespeare in Hollywood and I’m revoltingly proud of it.’

Where in London do you go to feel inspired?

‘I love to walk into Covent Garden Opera House. I’m a huge opera fan, and just being in the area makes me happy.’

If you had just one day in London where would you spend it?

‘At the National Gallery of Art looking at my favourite painting, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars. Or at the National Theatre, which is always so full of life.’

Where do you like to grab a bite to eat in London?

‘My favourite places include the dining rooms at the Haymarket Hotel and the Covent Garden Hotel, The Ivy and J Sheekey.’

Where do you like to relax in London?

‘I like to take a stroll through Bloomsbury and around Russell Square because I love all the literary associations. Also past Doctor Johnson’s House for the same reason. I like to daydream about meeting the great man.’

Crazy For You runs until September 10 at:

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Inner Circle
Regent’s Park

Tel: 0844 826 4242

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