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BWW REVIEW: Ogunquit's VICTOR/VICTORIA Says Vive la Difference

Book by Blake Edwards; music by Henry Mancini; lyrics by Leslie Bricusse; additional music by Frank Wildhorn; director, Matt Lenz; choreographer, Darren Lee; set design, Robin Wagner; costume design, Willa Kim; lighting design, Richard Latta; sound design, Kevin Heard; wig and makeup design, Britt E. Griffith; orchestrations, Billy Beyers; music director, Jeffrey Campos

Cast in Order of Appearance:

Carroll Todd, George Dvorsky; Les Boys and others, Bradley Gibson, Chris Kane, Taylor Collins, Darrin French, Jamie Patterson; Richard Di Nardo, Patch David; Gregor and others, Vincent D'Elia; Madame Roget, Addie Tomlinson; Victoria Grant, Lisa Brescia; Miss Selmer and others, Sarah Ellis; Andre Cassell, Bob Marcus; Norma Cassidy, Robyn Hurder; King Marchan, Darren Ritchie; Squash (Mr. Bernstein), Jacob Smith; Chambermaid, Kaleigh Cronin; additional ensemble, Brittany Bigelow, Christina Laschuk, Vanessa Mitchell

Performances and Tickets:

Now through July 18, Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main Street (Route 1), Ogunquit, Maine; tickets start at $44 and are available online at www.ogunquitplayhouse.com or by calling the Box Office at 207-646-5511.

The original Broadway production of Blake Edwards' screen to stage transfer of the musical VICTOR/VICTORIA was a mixed bag of giddy pleasures and frustrating disappointments. It brought the beloved Julie Andrews, recreating her starring role from the highly regarded 1982 film, back to Broadway after a 33-year absence. It boasted a terrific cast and all-star creative team, yet it struggled at the box office and scored just one Tony nomination, for Andrews, which she infamously rejected choosing instead to stand by her colleagues who had been "egregiously overlooked." Now, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of VICTOR/VICTORIA's original Broadway opening, Maine's 83-year-old Ogunquit Playhouse is staging its own lavish production - also with mixed results.

VICTOR/VICTORIA is the story of an out-of-work British soprano named Victoria Grant (Lisa Brescia) who becomes the toast of 1934 Paris by masquerading as "the world's greatest female impersonator" Victor, a Polish count. Taken under the wing of the kindly gay nightclub performer Carroll (Toddy) Todd (George Dvorsky), Victoria at first balks at the notion of being "a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman." However, once she succeeds in carrying off the illusion and enjoys the freedom and power that comes with being a famous man, she blossoms as Victor - that is, until "he" falls in love with the notorious Chicago gangster King Marchan (Darren Ritchie). When King feels troubling stirrings of his own toward Victor, he sets out to prove that "he" is really a "she," sparking a chain reaction of events that involves his ditzy moll Norma (Robyn Hurder), his bodyguard Squash (Jacob Smith), and his mob partner Sal Andretti (Vincent D'Elia). When love conquers all in the end it's no surprise, but when we see who pairs up with whom it is.

VICTOR/VICTORIA's gender-bending exploration of sexual identity and orientation may have seemed fresh, even daring, in 1982, but by the time it hit Broadway in 1995 it was already a bit tame. Today it feels downright quaint when compared to the courage of Caitlyn Jenner and the recent Supreme Court ruling finally making Marriage Equality the law of the land. By 2015 standards, VICTOR/VICTORIA is a sex farce without much sex. And the fact that Ogunquit has almost slavishly recreated the Broadway original, using Robin Wagner's sets and Willa Kim's costumes, makes the show's datedness that much more apparent.

Still, VICTOR/VICTORIA does have its charms. While Brescia doesn't emit the mega-star wattage of Dame Andrews (and who could?), she has a boyish face and slim physique that make her character's androgyny seem plausible. When wearing a tux, she could easily pass for a "he." When decked out in sequins and beads, "he" could easily pass for a "she." Although Brescia is unfortunately saddled with the least humorous dialogue of anyone in the show, she comes alive when singing. She is especially effective when melding the power and poignancy of "Living in the Shadows," celebrating Victoria's coming out as a woman in love.

As Toddy, Victoria's partner in crime, Dvorsky is delightfully droll. He is burdened with heavy exposition in most of Act I, but once the farcical elements ramp up in Act II he cuts loose and really has fun. He is at his most tender and playful leading Victor in an old soft shoe, "Me and You." He is also quite endearing as he befriends the sturdy but amiable Squash, played with a wonderfully understated humor by Smith.

As King Marchan, Ritchie, like Brescia, is tasked with playing it straight in a comedy that is anything but. He makes the most of "King's Dilemma," his mildly comic soliloquy of sexual confusion, but he also shares with Brescia the worst song in the show, a tepid duet aptly titled "Almost a Love Song." Almost, indeed. For a show all about sexual urges bubbling beneath the surface, there is very little heat between the primary lovers.

The stage ignites, however, once the "Windy City Baracuda" Norma Cassidy makes her entrance. Just as Rachel York did in the original run on Broadway, Hurder devours the part and makes it her own. Hurder's Norma is a true man-eater, more dangerous than ditzy and truly scary in the most hilarious way possible. When she does "The Tango" with Victor she is ecstatic to the point of mania. When she tries to seduce King with "Paris Makes Me Horny," she puts his health and safety in true jeopardy. One wishes that all of VICTOR/VICTORIA were as deliciously written as Norma's syntax-mangling blonde bombshell. If only the leads were having as much fun as the supporting players.

While the original Broadway sets and costumes bring a level of period glitz and glamor to the Ogunquit production, they also lock director Matt Lenz and choreographer Darren Lee into staging that is almost identical to the original. For someone who has never seen the show before, that may not be much of a problem. But one wonders if the creative team had been given a blank slate, might they have reconceived the show to be more daring by today's standards.

Even so, one can't help but get a lump in the throat when considering VICTOR/VICTORIA's place in the evolution of politics, acceptance and understanding around issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. When seen within that historical context, this Ogunquit production is a true celebration.

PHOTOS BY GARY NG: Lisa Brescia as Victoria Grant with the company of VICTOR/VICTORIA; George Dvorsky as Carroll Todd and the company of VICTOR/VICTORIA; Lisa Brescia and Robyn Hurder as Norma Cassidy


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