Chicago Theatre Review
Living in the Shadows
Victor/Victoria – NightBlue
The old adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” One could also add that if it doesn’t improve upon the original, why adapt a movie or book for the stage? However, in 1995 Blake Edwards decided to adapt his 1982 film, which starred his wife, the legendary theatre and film star Julie Andrews, as a theatrical musical. Edwards not only rewrote his film script for the stage, adding additional songs composed by Henry Mancini, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse; he also directed the theatrical musical. The results were mixed, ranging from lukewarm to disappointing. The one highlight was in once again seeing Ms. Andrews appearing live on stage.
On the musical stage, Julie Andrews recreated her film role as Victoria Grant, a penniless English opera star looking for work as a singer in Paris. When, by chance, she meets Carroll Todd (Toddy, to his friends), a flamboyant, gay nightclub performer, they devise a way to earn a living during tough economic times of 1934. Toddy cuts Victoria’s long, beautiful hair and styles it like a man. He then dresses her in men’s clothing and promotes her as Victor, the famous Polish aristocrat and female impersonator. With her magnificently wide vocal range, Victoria becomes Victor, the new star of Parisian clubs and music halls.
The original film was a curiosity, sweet and amusing. A couple of the songs were pleasant, but the score wasn’t a standout. The addition of more musical numbers didn’t help, either. The songs are mostly slow tempo and forgettable. And no one really believed that Julie Andrews could pass for a man, especially a man impersonating a woman. Lovely, likable, talented actress Shari Mocheit inherits the same problem. She makes the most of her many ballads, such as the hauntingly simple “Crazy World,” and she works hard to bring sparkle to production numbers like “Le Jazz Hot!” and “Louis Says.” But, in this production, these songs lack any real pizzazz. In addition to Ms. Mocheit in the title role, the production features an ensemble of skilled musical theatre artists, whose talents sometimes seem wasted in this unimpressive show. Billy Dawson, a charismatic, musically-gifted young actor, makes the most of his portrayal of Toddy. Indeed, Mr. Dawson and Ms. Mocheit are the best reasons for seeing this production. With their chemistry as solid as any pair of truly devoted friends, this unlikely couple works well together as a team. Their voices blend nicely with duets like “You & Me” and “Trust Me.”
King Marchan, Victoria’s love interest, is played with suave masculinity by handsome Casey Hayes. Unfortunately he’s given very little to do except to sneak around between hotel rooms, trying to prove to himself that Victor is really a woman (“King’s Dilemma). Then, once he’s uncovered her secret, he spends the rest of the show wooing Victoria on the sly (“Almost a Love Song”). It’s such a waste of talent, particularly when Hayes has proven to be an accomplished character actor in NightBlue’s production of “The Producers,” running alternate nights in rep. In fact, although he’s very good as Toddy, Billy Dawson also shines far brighter in the other show, as well. John Gurdian, who plays multiple roles in NightBlue’s rep production, is quite charming and likable as Squash, King Marchan’s bodyguard, a man with his own secret. Erin Long does her best dumb blonde impersonation as Norma, providing some of the only comic moments in this show. However, Ms. Long screams most of her lines. With her mic amplifying her nasal Betty Boop voice, she becomes annoyingly shrill. The show’s musical highlight, and Norma’s big Act II number, “Chicago, Illinois” is, unfortunately, practically unintelligible.
Without strong enough material, it would be difficult for any theatre to transform this lackluster musical into a show that sparkles. But NightBlue may have bitten off more than they can chew in deciding to produce two big book musicals running simultaneously in repertory. It seems as if the company spent all its time and energy on “The Producers” which, in comparison, is far brighter and much more entertaining. There are moments when the show begins to be amusing or affecting, but then it turns into a play that’s more about moving furniture and scenery than about real people. There are timing issues, costumes and wigs that don’t flatter the actors and choreography that only sizzles now and then. It’s like this production, as Victor sings, is “Living in the Shadows.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 10-October 11 in repertory with “The Producers,” by NightBlue Performing Arts Company at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.