Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2001
For reasons best left undisclosed, I have seen the 1982 film version of Victor, Victoria many more times than I should have, but I had not seen the “egregiously overlooked” 1995 stage version until today when I made my first trip of the season down to the Mac-Haydn. I immediately understood why it was not a Tony contender, despite Julie Andrews’ star power. While this is a warm and entertaining musical, there is absolutely nothing new or innovative about its script by Blake Edwards, score by Henry Mancini, or lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Victor, Victoria is a thoroughly old-fashioned entertainment, in spite of the fact that it features openly homosexual characters.
The Mac-Haydn mounts thoroughly old-fashioned musicals with great panache, and Victor,Victoria is no exception. After a slow start, which is more the fault of the book than the performers or the production, the show picks up the pace and the laughs come fast and furious by the end. Director Seth Wenig and leading players Kelly Jo Eldridge (Victor/Victoria) and Michael Shiles (Toddy) have worked together on this show before, and Wenig and Shiles are familiar with the small and quirky playing space at the Mac-Haydn, which is a great bonus in the fast-paced world of summer stock.
The plot of “Victor, Victoria” is pretty much your standard bedroom farce except the coupling possibilities are extended by the presence of many gay male characters. Victoria, a down-and-out British art singer, finds herself penniless in Paris and meets up with gay night-club entertainer Toddy at a disastrous audition. Toddy takes her in for the night and hatches a scheme to pay the rent – Victoria must become Victor, a famous Polish female impersonator. The scheme works and “Victor” becomes the toast of Paris. She fools everyone but Chicago gangster King Marchand (Dan Pasky) and Labisse (Andrew Foote) the nightclub owner for whom she auditioned as Victoria. The straight King finds himself in love with “Victor,” Toddy and King’s bodyguard Squash Bernstein (John Saunders) become lovers, and bleached blonde bimbo Norma (Kathryn Strock) exacts her revenge on King for dumping her. There are no doors to slam, but two hotel windows get a good workout as everyone dashes towards the happy ending.
Eldridge, Shiles, Strock, and Saunders are real pros, and it shows. They create lovable, believable characters out of some pretty shopworn stereotypes. Eldridge is lovely to look and has a fine voice. She bears a strong physical resemblance to Julie Andrews, which undoubtedly made her an excellent substitute on the national road tours of this show that she has played. Shiles makes Toddy the most cuddly, non-threatening gay man on the face of the earth – you can’t help but love him. Strock has a great time playing the stereotypical ditzy, low-class blonde. She looks great in her skimpy costumes and delivers her dumb lines with zest. Saunders actually has the most interesting part to play, morphing from the stereotypical big, silent brute to a creative, sensitive man brave enough to come out of the closet. While Shiles creates a mincing, swishy Toddy, Saunders presents a gay male character who is, well, just a guy. He is refreshingly real without being dull in the midst of all the silliness.
The only one of the leads I felt was weak was Pasky as King. There is a reason most of the characters in Victor,Victoria are written as broad stereotypes, and that is to show exactly how stupid and restrictive those stereotypes are. If we all thought outside our own envelopes a little more we could discover facets of our personality and talents that we possess that we never imagined. King Marchand is a straight man in the tough, macho world of Chicago gangsters. He has chosen the ridiculously feminine Norma as his lover and believes himself happy to play Tarzan to her Jane, until he meets “Victor” and has to question the entire premise of his identity. The fact that he is able to say that he loves Victor/Victoria regardless of his/her gender, is monumental. Somehow Pasky never made me believe that is was that much of a challenge, which meant the audience missed out on some fine opportunities to reflect on the shows theme of self-acceptance and some good laughs as well.
I was glad to see Marcia Kunkel back at the Mac-Haydn and enjoyed her lovely rendition of the reprise of “Paris By Night.” She is a talented young woman and I hope she has had a variety of fun parts, large and small, while I have been away from the Mac. The rest of the young hopefuls that make up the cast and crew disport themselves with energy through many costume and wig changes. A couple of young men gamely perform in drag without fanfare for most of the show. See if you can spot them.
Victor,Victoria is a show with a message, and that message is that you should learn to live, do good, and be happy in your own skin, whether you are old or young, male or female, gay or straight. Musicals with a message are dangerous things, but Victor, Victoria manages to get its point across in an entertaining and painless manner.
“Victor/Victoria” runs through August 19 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre (518-392-9292), on Rt. 203 in Chatham, NY. The show runs just under three hours with one intermission. It is suitable for the whole family (no strong language or nudity and only very mild bedroom scenes), providing your family is not offended by open discussion of what it is to live daily life as a gay man.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001