`Victor' less than lively

Review: The stage musical of the Blake Edwards movie lacks luster.

April 22, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Blake Edwards' 1982 movie, "Victor/Victoria," was such fun, you have to wonder what a stage adaptation -- even one adapted by Edwards himself -- could possibly add to it. Judging from the touring production at the Mechanic Theatre, the answer is: Not much.

This is especially puzzling since the movie would appear to be a natural source for a stage musical. A film about performers in a fancy French club, it included not merely songs (by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse), but full-fledged production numbers.

The stage version retains four of the movie's six songs, and Mancini and Bricusse wrote a number of new ones. (Frank Wildhorn contributed additional music after Mancini's death.) The show's catchiest number, however, remains one from the movie, "Le Jazz Hot," and contrary to that song's title, Le Stage Show is merely lukewarm.

The problem isn't the performances, most of which are just fine. At 5-foot-11 and with a singing voice considerably lower and huskier than that of Julie Andrews, who originated the title role on film and on stage, Toni Tennille would seem a more logical choice to portray "a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman," as her character is described in the show.

That character is Victoria Grant, an out-of-work opera singer stranded in 1930s Paris, where she meets a gay cabaret performer named Toddy, who has also fallen on hard times. Played with warmth and affection by Jamie Ross, Toddy concocts a scheme to make Victoria a star: They will pretend she's a female impersonator named Victor. Tennille touchingly conveys Victoria's initial awkwardness in this ploy, and if she's never fully convincing as a man, well, Andrews wasn't really, either.

Plus, there's one character who doesn't want to be convinced -- a Chicago gangster named King Marchan, who falls in love with Victor. Dennis Cole delivers an amusing portrayal of this would-be tough guy, whose sense of machismo is threatened by the realization that, as the show puts it, King may be a queen. Dana Lynn Mauro is both a hoot and a holler as King's screechy, platinum blond moll, even though the combination of her chalk-board-scratching delivery and a loud orchestra obscures many of the lyrics in her big number, "Chicago, Illinois."

Mark S. Hoebee's direction is at its best in the show's farcical moments. These reach their peak in a scene in which King and his earnest bodyguard, Squash (played by A.J. Irvin with the heart of a teddy bear and the demeanor of a grizzly) are trapped in Toddy's hotel suite, along with a maid and a suspicious nightclub proprietor, all of whom wind up ducking behind doors and under beds.

In contrast, the reprise of the show's opening song, "Paris By Night," sung by a street singer, brings the action to a dead halt -- one of several slow patches in the second act. Combined with the fact that, cute as they may be, there is little chemistry between Tennille's Victoria and Cole's King, and the overall effect is a glitzy musical that's surprisingly lackluster.

In two consecutive seasons, Mechanic Theatre audiences have now had a chance to see both of the traditional musicals -- "Big" and "Victor/Victoria" -- that were left out of the running for the top Tony Award in 1996. Their omission caused a stir at the time. But based on their touring productions, neither lived up to the promise of its source movie.

Somewhere in the transition between screen and stage, much of the charm disappeared. Although what remained may be pleasant, the live versions took some of the life out of the movies. "Big" managed to seem rather small, and "Victor/Victoria" is less than victorious.

`Victor/Victoria'

Where: Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza

When: 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday; matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $31-$59

Call: 410-752-1200

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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