Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 22,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Victor/Victoria’

Victor/Victoria" tries so hard to be a good musical

that you almost find yourself helping it along. You may actually find

yourself exhausted at the curtain calls after pushing yourself to

laugh at lame jokes, applauding lackluster dance numbers, and

otherwise

trying to stay alert to what’s going on onstage. Notwithstanding this

show’s inherent shortcomings: a mediocre score, its pandering of gay

life in 1930s Paris, and less than titillating gender-bending plot,

the show still has that occasional up moment just to let you know

the pros are doing their damnedest not to let you down. If the current

production at the Paper Mill Playhouse seems a little flat (pardon

the pun), it isn’t entirely the fault of Judy McLane, who assumes

the title role(s), a down-on-her-luck singer who would do anything

for two meatballs.

Inspired by a 1933 German film ("Viktor und Viktoria") about

a woman masquerading as a man masquerading as a female impersonator,

Blake Edwards directed his own successful film version in 1982

starring

his wife Julie Andrews. Additional songs by Henry Mancini and Leslie

Bricusse, and more songs by Frank Wildhorn, augmented the original

film-score when it was presented somewhat less successfully on

Broadway

in 1995 with Andrews again in the title role. Even the unlikely Raquel

Welch was strapped into a tuxedo for a short gig on Broadway that

inspired more unintentional laughs than the script allowed.

Paper Mill director Mark S. Hoebee does what he can with a show that

tries to be naughty and baudy, funny and sunny, but isn’t. His efforts

to instill the show with pizzazz and panache, as well as those of

choreographer Arte Phillips, tend to beg our indulgence, even as they

test our endurance. While McLane does a serviceable job impersonating

a dancer in that aggressively pedestrian "Le Jazz Hot," she

looks utterly dumbfounded in that garishly witless production number,

"Louis Says," a number that was wisely removed midway through

the Broadway run. McLane, who has a fine dramatic timbre in her voice,

gets her chance to be convincing singing "Crazy World" and

"Living in the Shadows," two of the show’s better songs.

Not unintentionally are we generally more amused by

the over-the-top performance by Tara O’Brien as the dizzy doxy Norma,

who milks her every dumb blonde line ("Outta my way pheasant")

for all it’s worth. O’Brien stops the show more than once but is a

knockout in the "Chicago, Illinois" number (now performed

without machine guns). I would have thought that the versatile actor

and excellent singer Robert Cuccioli, most recently seen as a virile

Anthony at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, would have had more

fun with the role of the tough Chicago mobster who unwittingly falls

for Victoria. Except for his one and only solo, "King’s

Dilemma,"

Cuccioli actually appears a little uncomfortable as he is being

"dragged"

through the pretentiously risque doings.

Give Lee Roy Reams an opportunity to swish an inch and he takes a

mile, as Toddy, the "aging queen" cabaret entertainer who

becomes Victoria’s mentor, manager, and confidant. As flawlessly

flamboyant

as he is, one misses the poignant sweetness that one remembers was

at the heart of Robert Preston’s film portrayal. The show’s best scene

remains its homage to old time farce in which all the principals are

seen stealthily exiting and entering, but never meeting, in two

adjoining

hotel suites. Designer Robin Wagner’s Parisian settings add sparkle

to a show that is, after everyone, including King’s macho body-guard

(Jody Ashworth), is let out of the closest, more than a little

moth-eaten.

— Simon Saltzman

Victor/Victoria, Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside

Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343. $37 to $60. Performances continue

through

Sunday, December 10.


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