Chris Caswell and Colleen Sudduth in The Players’ Victor Victoria.
Many of us might have fond memories of Julie Andrews, Robert Preston and James Garner in the original film/musical of Victor Victoria—a romp through 1930s Paris with the sometimes funny, sometimes touching story of a woman playing a man playing a woman as a female impersonator, thanks to the help of her gay best friend. With Blake Edwards at the helm, that movie was a hit and a great star vehicle for Andrews.
Flash forward a decade or so to the Broadway version, which again starred Andrews to great acclaim. The production itself, though, got rather more mixed reviews, and it’s easy to see why in the Players’ season-closing production of the same.
The basic idea is still a winner, of course. Toddy (Chris Caswell) comes across the starving British soprano Victoria (Colleen Sudduth) at the shady nightclub where he works and somehow they immediately bond, to the point where he takes her back to his place (no problem with hanky-panky there since he’s gay, a word which, in its sexual connotations, surely hadn’t yet come into vogue in the 1930s). A chance encounter with his former boyfriend and Victoria’s own declaration that sometimes she’d like to be a man lead to the genius idea of cutting her hair, dressing her in men’s clothing, and having her belt out her high B-flats to an audience amazed he/she can do it. Voilà: Victoria, now known as a Polish count named Victor, is suddenly the toast of Paris.
There’s a lot of “suddenly” and “immediately” in Victor Victoria, whether you believe it all or not. Victoria and Toddy no sooner meet Chicago businessman/gangster King Marchan (Ed Stevens) than there’s instant attraction there, too. But King has a bimbo girlfriend to out-bimbo all bimbos in Norma Cassidy (Aly Foster). Plus, a guy like King can’t possibly be attracted to a guy—can he?
There are some talented performers onstage at the Players. Veteran Chris Caswell sings well and is likable as Toddy; newcomer Colleen Sudduth has a fine voice in different ranges as Victor and Victoria and looks sharp in a tuxedo and short hairstyle; and Foster hams it up to good comic effect as Norma (although sometimes, even an admittedly over-the-top role can go too far).
But the stage version too often seems like a pale imitation of the original film to me. The Act II Cat and Mouse scene, without dialogue, where the players are shifting in and out of various doors for various reasons over two hotel suites, is vintage Blake Edwards, but the timing and the purpose of all the action aren’t sharp enough. There are some nice costumes, a couple of pleasing ensemble numbers—the show’s best-known number, Le Jazz Hot, and the entertaining Chicago, Illinois that gives Norma a showcase near the end of the evening—but the whole thing doesn’t really gel.
That said, the opening night audience at the Players seemed to enjoy the show more than I did. Maybe you will, too. Victor Victoria continues through May 1; call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.