Roles made famous on the big screen by Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, and Lesley Ann Warren give a quartet of Southland musical theater stars the chance to shine on the big stage in Inland Valley Repertory Theatre’s three-performance-only revival of the Broadway hit Victor/Victoria, one whose Henry Mancini/Leslie Bricusse score still offers multiple delights but whose creaky Blake Edwards book could do with a major rewrite.
Victoria Grant (Amy Gilette), a destitute English soprano living in 1930s Paris, conspires with gay night club employee Toddy (Ron Hastings) to pass herself off as “Count Victor Grazinski,” the “World’s Greatest Female Impersonator,” quickly finding herself hired by the very same Parisian club owner who only hours before would not give her the time of day as a woman.
“Victor” has no sooner become the toast of Paris than romantic complications ensue when Chicago monster King Marchand (Jeffrey Ricca) sees “him” on stage in female drag, falls head over heels for the beautiful “young man,” and begins to have doubts about his heretofore incontrovertible heterosexuality.
Adding to the colorful mix are King’s ditzy blonde girlfriend Norma (Kim Eberhardt), his macho bodyguard Squash (Christopher Lindsey), and assorted Parisian night clubbers and American mobsters.
Enlightened for 1995, that is.
Twenty-one year’s later, Edwards’ book has audiences laughing more often at its gay characters than with them, and could do with the contemporary sensibilities of an out-and-proud Harvey Fierstein, Joe DiPietro, or Douglas Carter Beane to reflect changing attitudes towards same-sex relationships.
Still, there’s no denying that Mancini and Bricusse wrote some gorgeous ballads (“Crazy World,” “Almost A Love Song”) and pizzazzy uptempo numbers (“Le Jazz Hot!” “Chicago, Illinois”), and Frank Wildhorn and Bricusse’s “Trust Me,” “Louis Says,” and “Living In The Shadows” are tuneful additions prompted by Mancini’s death mid-pre-production.
If nothing else, the title role/roles define star vehicle, and Gilette steps sensationally into Andrews’ shoes as a woman impersonating a man impersonating a woman, doing so to sizzling, vocally stunning effect (and giving Marie Antoinette a run for her money in the often cut “Louis Says”).
With IVRT producing artistic director Frank Minano in the director’s chair, Ricca proves the perfect choice to play King (GQ handsome with acting/vocal chops to match), Hastings does Oscar-nominated Preston proud with his aging but still vital Toddy, and Christopher Lindsey makes for a delightful “Squash” Bernstein (proving that even macho men can defy stereotype).
Scene-stealingest of all is Eberhardt’s wisecracking, malapropping peroxide patootie of a Norma (originated on the big screen by Oscar nominee Warren), her salutes to two of the world’s great cities in “Paris Makes Me Horny” and “Chicago, Illinois” stopping the show not once but twice.
Doubling as choreographer, Eberhardt gives nightclub dancers Kaitlyn Boyd, Nicole Bravo, Kristina Leopold, Bryan Mártinez (Gregor), Aaron Shaw, and Jabriel Shelton (Jazz Tenor) plenty of nightclub panache to deliver, and they do so with beaucoup de flair.
Jackie Cox shows off gorgeous pipes in “Paris By Night,” John Lynd is an amusing Andre Cassell, and Steve Siegel does Born Yesterday’s Harry Brock proud as Sal Andretti.
Tony Collins, DawnElllen Ferry, Mark Mackenzie, Ken Martinez, Walt Schaefer, and Cindy Smith play assorted cameos, a number of which could benefit from a good deal more subtlety or a crash course in French.
As in IVRT musicals past, Victor/Victoria scores bonus points for its live orchestra, once again under the baton of expert musical director Ronda Rubio, sound designer Nick Galvan providing a clear mix of vocals and instrumentals.
Set modifier Mark Mackenzie lucks out big time with Chuck Ketter’s fabulously gay-rainbow-hued art deco La Cage Aux Folles set, one that lends itself perfectly to V/V needs. Other than a chambermaid uniform inexplicably out of the 1890s, costumes provided by The Theatre Company are sequined period treats as well. Ken Martinez’s ‘20s hair and wigs are terrific too as are Cindy Smith’s props, all of the above lit with appropriate flash by Daniel Moorfield.
Hope Kaufman is assistant director. Bobby Collins is production coordinator. Jeanette Capuano is costume coordinator. Emerald Gonzalez-Castillo is stage manager.
Unlike Jerry Herman’s La Cage Aux Folles, still timeless at thirty-three, Victor/Victoria is showing signs of his/her age. Still, if for no other reason than its four lead performances, IVRT audiences can cheer the chance to pay a brief return visit to Gay Paree at its gayest.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
September 27, 2016