The set-up: The French have a word for it - lousy.
When the best part of a Broadway musical is the proscenium curtain - a stunning piece of faux French art deco with golden geometric fountains by way of master theater designer Robin Wagner - you know there's trouble on the Great White Way. What happens after this handsome curtain rises at Victor/Victoria is entirely faux. The execution: Perhaps the most dispiriting musical in memory, Blake Edwards' own adaptation of his 1982 hit movie comedy that had a backstage score by Henry Mancini and starred his wife, the glorious Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria (1995) seems to have been made by people who've never seen a musical.
Clunky, uninspired, and surprisingly shoddy in its music and lyrics (especially those "June, moon, spoon" lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, or should I quote from the show, "can, man, plan"), the show has no wings. This ton of old theater bricks never gets off the ground.
The only plausible excuse why this musical dodo lasted on Broadway as long as it did (734 performances, a solid year and a half) could only have been the mega wattage from supernova Andrews, who hadn't been on Broadway in a full scale musical since Camelot in the wayback golden age of 1960. Nominated for the 1996 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Andrews, always the lady, graciously declined the accolade since none of her other stage mates had been nominated. During the run Andrews suffered from hoarseness and underwent throat surgery. The procedure on her vocal cords destroyed her singing voice, and she subsequently settled out of court with the New York hospital for a reputed $20 million. Not nearly enough, we say, for the loss of her crystalline soprano. The show limped on, with statuesque Raquel Welch as drag queen Victor, an unlikely fit of actor to role as anyone's ever seen. And now it's here at the Hobby Center via Theatre Under the Stars. The show still limps.
Why the show plods like some relic of Broadway past, even though its plot is au courant with gay celebration, is probably the problem most movie adaptations suffer through on their way to the stage. Transferring one medium that relies on editing and camera placement, and the primary notion that movies are a visual medium, is extremely difficult to pull off on stage. Theater is talk, movies are pictures. Not to mention that there are no Julie Andrews anymore, those stars who light up what ever place they appear: Broadway, Hollywood, TV specials, Joe's Crab Stack. The old gods are gone, and squeezing new ones into their iconic roles is futile.
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Anastasia Barzee is no Julie Andrews. She bears a passing resemblance with her cropped auburn hair, vocal inflection, and certain line readings, but there's no spark or sparkle to her interpretation. She has a lovely singing voice and belts out the ballads "Crazy World" and Frank Wildhorn's "Living in the Shadows" with professional polish, but there's nobody there. To be charitable, she can not dance - not a step - that doesn't look calculated or meant to conceal her lack of ease. It's pretty much a rote performance, but she's not alone.
Everybody in the cast, even showbiz veteran Tony Shelton (a Tony nominee for another iconic gay role in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) as Toddy, the washed-up old queen who discovers Victoria and turns her into him and then into the toast of Paris, is on autopilot. Angel Reda tries to breathe some life into dumb blond Norma, but she's such a cartoon of all the sexed-up dumb blonds from centuries ago, there's no where new to go. It's a retread role (see Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, for the sublimely comic way this character can be written). Joey Sorge as alpha-male King Marchan, who instantly falls for Victor and questions his own sexuality, at least brings some quizzical relief and suave crooning into a thankless role. He seems to be the only one who really wants to be on stage. The rest pretend and go through the motions, but they'd rather be someplace else. That includes director/choreography Richard Stafford, who directs the stage traffic as if by phone.
The verdict: The entire show's a retread, nothing fresh in it whatsoever. Here's a fan dance from Chicago, a big hunk from La Cage aux Folles, an homage to Chorus Line at the end. Bits and pieces plucked from much better shows. But it's the music that sinks this. Never has Henry Mancini sounded so wan, pale, derivative. This from the composer who wrote standards "Moon River" and "The Days of Wine and Roses," the jazz-noir score for Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, the delightful Pink Panther theme? Mancini died before the show opened, so Frank Wildhorn (Jeykll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Alley's Alice in Wonderland) and lyricist Bricusse plumped up the score to no one's advantage. Even the 20-piece orchestra doesn't get into the swing of it. Of all the Mancini songs, the show's closer, "Victor/Victoria," is a jaunty tuneful, letting us go out with a smile. For that we're thankful.
Victor/Victoria continues through September 28 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. Purchase tickets online at TUTS.com or call 713-558-8887. $37.25-$133.50.