A&E: ‘Victor/Victoria’ wins despite itself


A little bit of history before I get to the specifics of American Cabaret Theatre’s production of “Victor/Victoria”: The movie on which it is based, concerning a woman who finds success-and romantic complications-pretending to be a female impersonator, proved a surprising cinematic hit for actress Julie Andrews and her director/husband Blake Edwards in 1982. Thirteen years later, again directed by Edwards, the movie was turned into a musical for Andrews, who hadn’t been on Broadway since “Camelot” in 1963.

The result was, well, underwhelming. Critics claimed the show was not up to its star and, when the Tony Awards were announced, only Andrews received a nomination. The rest of “Victor/Victoria” was shut out. When the show closed-after stints by Liza Minnelli and Raquel Welch in the lead role(s)-it didn’t quite enter the regional repertoire.

Rather than the show itself, “Victor/Victoria” is remembered for Andrews’ reaction to her show’s Tony snubs: She famously withdrew herself from awards consideration.

After watching ACT’s production, it’s easy to see her side, and that of the Tony committee. “Victor/Victoria” is clearly not a great show. It’s barely an OK one. The opening comes across as second-rate “La Cage aux Folles,” its score is average at best and, at least in this production, a lack of sexual energy keeps it from generating the sparks it may have.

Yet with strong vocalists and spirited performers, there’s pleasure to be had in “V/V’s” mix of door-slamming farce, boulevard bawdiness, and sensitive-if-forgettable ballads. Director Bob Harbin knows not to make too much of the material (I cringe to think of the pretentious slide show his ACT predecessor Claude McNeal might have inflicted on the show) and his production picks up energy as it proceeds.

Ron Spencer, usually seen further up Mass Ave. in his own digs at Theatre on the Square, wears the character of gay impresario Toddy like a comfortable pair of pajamas. Bobbi Bates is in great voice as Victoria (even if, because of her physical appearance, it requires a serious suspension of belief to think of her as a man). Dave Ruark provides the proper confused machismo of King Marchan, the gangster wrestling with his attraction for this “Victor.” And Nathalie Cruz gets plenty of laughs as Marchan’s malaproping moll.

And in a town where lyrics are often sacrificed to problematic sound, band leader John Austin Butsch, vocal director John D. Phillips, and sound director Matt Cunningham deserve kudos for never losing a lyric.

Lou Harry will be on vacation next week-which, for him, means seeing four shows in New York City to report on here. His column will return May 19.

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