Harry, the Happy Hoofer
03/23/1992 at 01:00 AM EST
BEFORE THE CURTAIN RISES ON EACH NIGHT'S PERFORMANCE of Crazy for You, hoofer Harry Groener calls out a number in his dressing room. His buddy and costar, Bruce Adler, promptly scans 25,000 Jokes for All Occasions—a book Harry gave him—and reads that one aloud. No matter that the gags are all groaners, it's just Harry's way of revving up for his turbo-charged performance in the Broadway hit. "I'm onstage the whole time—singing, dancing, acting, changing," he says. "I'm wet and sweaty. I'm concentrating so hard, I don't have time to be scared."
Groener needn't worry. Based on 1930's Girl Crazy, Crazy for You is a giddy, old-fashioned, feel-good romance spiced with glitter, chorus girls and an infusion of Gershwin tunes. And everyone, it seems, is just wild about Harry. The lanky redhead, 40, is "exuberant...a Jimmy Stewart who can hoof and sing," gushed The New York Times. "We knew he was the right guy," says producer Roger Horchow, the mail-order czar who put up most of the show's $7.5 million budget. "Harry just clicked."
Singing and dancing are in Groener's blood. His father was a concert pianist and tap dancer who abandoned his career for a mail room job after the family moved from Augsburg, Germany, to San Francisco when Harry was 2. At 7, Harry hopped onstage and did the twist at the social club where his mother sang operettas. Deciding to become a dancer, he began studying ballet, appearing in school musicals and, after graduating from the University of Washington in 1976, hit the regional theater circuit.
While choreographing Vanities in Louisville later that year, he met his wife, actress Dawn Didawick. "I was stunned when I first saw him dance—his style and grace," she says. It took little time for her to go from thinking of Harry as "this condescending California guy to this great human being." Married in 1978, the couple now divide their time between L.A. and Manhattan.
Groener first made it to Broadway in 1980 as Will Parker in a revival of Oklahoma!, for which he learned to twirl a rope and lassoed a Tony nomination. In 1982 he was Munkustrap in Cats and a nominee again. In 1988 he went Hollywood, joining the Judd Hirsch sitcom Dear John. But last year his character—the nerdy divorcé Ralph—was abruptly axed. "It was a shock," he says. "I tried to find out why, but no one was specific."
Crazy for You soon eased the pain of rejection. For now, his biggest worry is the flu. "I'm on vitamin C and antihistamines and have things to spray in my nose," he says, "because we all have to kiss each other in the show." As Gershwin would say, nice work if you can get it.
TOBY KAHN in New York City