Hijinks ensue in Revival Theatre Company’s beautiful production of ‘Victor/Victoria’

Revival Theatre Company Presents: Victor/Victoria

Dows Fine Art Center at Coe College — through Sunday, June 4

Nina Swanson as Victoria in Revival Theatre Company’s production of ‘Victor/Victoria.’ — photo by TINT

The 1982 film Victor/Victoria and the 1995 Broadway musical of the same name were both star vehicles for Julie Andrews. This, of course, sets a high bar for anyone stepping into the title role. Nina Swanson, well known to area fans of music and theater, had no trouble clearing that bar in the final dress rehearsal of Revival Theatre Company’s production of Victor/Victoria.

The musical, under the direction of Brian Glick with musical direction by Cameron Sullenberger, will be performed in Dows Fine Art Center on the Coe College campus this Thursday through Sunday, June 1-4, with 7:30 p.m. performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $35.

The musical’s book was written by Blake Edwards with music by Henry Mancini, who died before the show was completed (Frank Wildhorn wrote additional music and Leslie Bricusse wrote the lyrics).

It’s 1931, and Victoria Grand is a middling soprano looking for a break in Paris. Her new friend and protector, Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Larry Newman), hatches a scheme in which Victoria will become a female impersonator. The plan is for Victoria to pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman. Soon enough, Victoria, as Victor, catches the eye of King Marchan (Joe Wetrich), who struggles with his attraction to a man while remaining reasonably confident that Victor is, in fact, a woman. Hijinks ensue.

Taking in a final dress rehearsal is different from watching on opening night. There’s no crackle of energy from the audience, jokes — even when perfectly delivered — don’t land, and the pace can drag in ways it might not if the adrenaline of actual performance were in play. A few technical hiccups might remain and a few onstage interactions — technical and dramatic — might not cohere.

Each of these challenges was on display to a greater or lesser degree on Wednesday night, but they couldn’t distract from the quality of the lead performances. Swanson simply sings beautifully whether performing one of the show’s cabaret numbers (of which “Le Jazz Hot” is the most famous) or one of the songs that advances the plot. She and Wetrich combine to sing the show’s most affecting number, “Almost a Love Song,” in act two.

For his part, Wetrich is outstanding as King Marchan, and his performance of “King’s Dilemma,” a textured song that includes rapid-fire passages and long expressive notes, is easily a highlight of the production.

Newman is charming as Toddy. While his acting is perhaps stronger than his singing, he and Swanson ham it up winningly on “You and Me,” recalling the great buddy duets of old time movies and shows.

Larry Newman as Toddy in Revival Theatre Company’s production of ‘Victor/Victoria.’ — photo by TINT

Jennifer Ford plays Norma Cassidy, Marchan’s high strung girlfriend. Ford may overplay the part just a smidgen, but her approach serves her well on her first act feature, “Paris Makes Me Horny.” Jackson Bartelme plays Squash, Marchan’s bodyguard, and while his character doesn’t come fully into focus until midway through the second act, once he’s in the story’s spotlight, he takes full advantage of his moment.

The technical aspects of the show are lovely. Scott Olinger’s set is stunning, with beautiful details and the flexibility to define the various settings. Its success is truly revealed in a second act scene in which a good portion of the cast sneaks around in the tradition of many a farce.

Tallis Strüb’s period appropriate choreography sparkles in spots and might sparkle in more as the members of the ensemble grow more confident with its intricacies. Kristen Geisler’s lighting design is creative, contributing to both mood and plot in useful ways, and April Bonasera’s costume design is excellent, particularly for the production numbers.

The orchestra, under the direction of Michelle Perrin Blair, had some struggles on Wednesday night, and occasionally the cast fell out of the musical pocket. Part of the problem may be that the orchestra is located in a different room and the music is piped in. The immediacy of the connection between actors and musicians may suffer as a result. That said, it’s an understandable solution to the Dows Theatre layout, which the production takes full advantage of in other ways. Locating a sizeable orchestra in the room would be challenging, especially since the ensemble cast is large and things occasionally get quite crowded in the small playing area.

As for the music itself, Mancini’s songs are short on the memorable melodies and themes that made him famous. “Le Jazz Hot” is the only song one is likely to leave the theater humming.

Victor/Victoria is fairly progressive in its depictions of love, gender and sexuality. Notably, Marchan makes a sacrifice on behalf of Victoria before she makes one on his behalf, providing a certain (and arguably unusual) balance to the show’s climactic confrontation. The cast beautifully conveys the show’s belief in the power of love to upend our expectations and change the course of lives.

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