Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ogunquit Playhouse Presents "Victor/Victoria" - Through July 18

The Ogunquit Playhouse kicked off its 2015 season on a very high note with a stunning and sizzling production of "Sister Act."  I gave it a very enthusiastic review in The White Rhino Report:

White Rhino Report Review of "Sister Act"

The guest who had accompanied me to that show had such a good time that she eagerly accepted my invitation to join me in seeing the second show of the Ogunquit season, "Victor/Victoria."  Her comment to me just before the curtain was to open for "Victor/Victoria" was: "It will be hard to live up to the high standards and energy that was set by "Sister Act"  That observation proved to be prescient, for despite many laudable aspects to the current production, it lacked the exuberance and punch of the season opener.

One of the problems I have with "Victor/Victoria" is with the writing.  The book by Blake Edwards, who adapted the Broadway show from the motion picture, is not particularly strong.  Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse are mostly pedestrian and uninspired.  Music by Henry Mancini with additional music by Frank Wildhorn left me waiting for a number that I could recognize or want to hum on my drive back south.  I kept hoping for something that would rise to the level of Mancini's iconic "Moon River," but the river never flowed for me in this show.  The writing of the characters is also a bit uneven.  The role of Count Victor/Victoria is pretty well fleshed out and interesting, as is that of her promoter, Toddy.  Other characters tended to be two-dimensional or cartoonish.

Despite my quibbling over the writing of the show, this production has plenty to praise.  Set designer Robin Wagner has created a visually pleasing set that morphs from a night club to a small Paris flat to a sumptuous set of adjoining suites in a 3-star hotel.  Lighting by Richard Latta and Sound by Kevin Heard are excellent, and the costumes by Willa Kim include some stunning numbers worthy of the Follies Bergere. Choreography is by Darren Lee.  Music Director Jeffrey Campos leads an 9-piece orchestra that fills the theater with jazz riffs that keep the pace of the show moving briskly.

Director Matt Lenz leads a cast of enthusiastic and energetic actors, singers and dancers.

George Dvorsky as Carroll Todd (Toddy)
Lisa Brescia as Victor/Victoria
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through July 18

  • Broadway veteran Lisa Brescia tops the bill as Victor/Victoria. In the plot of the show, Chicago mogul King Marchan has a hard time buying the ruse that drag queen Victoria is actually a man. His point is well taken.  Ms. Brescia has such delicate and beautiful feminine features that she is never quite believable during her scenes as Count Victor, but she makes up for this deficiency with her lovely singing voice that is best displayed in the rousing song that comes closest to being a legitimate "eleven o'clock number," Living In The Shadows."
  • Another Broadway veteran, George Dvorsky plays the affable and scheming Toddy.  He is perfectly cast in this juicy role.  There is a wonderful and subtle moment in the show when he has succeeded in turning Victoria into a big star as the top Drag Queen in Paris.  As they are leaving the theater, he thinks he is alone on stage as he sets the ghost light to guard the empty stage.  He strikes a pose to mime how he would perform if he were a star on that stage.  It is a wonderful foreshadowing of a scene that occurs during the final production number, and it sheds light on some of his character's unfulfilled longings.  It is a wonderful moment that could easily be missed.
  • Darren Ritchie is excellent as the conflicted King Marchan. He is conflicted over his attraction for Victor.  He can't be gay!  His wrestling with Victor/Victoria's enigmatic sexuality causes him to examine his own attitudes and his own sexuality, and serves as a microcosm of one of the over-arching themes of this show.
  •  Robyn Hurder play King's brassy moll, Norma Cassidy.  This is one of the two-dimensional characters I alluded to above.  She is so stereotypical as the "dumb blonde" that her character is hardly believable.  Ms. Hurder, who hails originally from the State of Maine, is a talented Broadway actor who is not given much to work with in this role.  She does her best with the unfortunate song "Paris Makes Me Horny," and has a good time in the production number "Chicago, Illinois."
  • Jacob Smith plays Squash, King's burly bodyguard.  He is a former center on the Notre Dame football team.  His surprising relationship that develops with Toddy highlights another thene of the show: "You can't always tell a book by its cover."  This actor, who recently appeared on Broadway in "Doctor Zhivago," is one of the highlights of the show.  Near the end of the story he shows off a powerful baritone singing voice.
  • Other principals include Patch David as Richard DiNardo, Joe Joyce as Henri Labisse, Bob Marcus as Andre Cassell.
  • Standing out among the ensemble was Boston Conservatory graduate Bradley Gibson as Jazz Singer.  His lovely voice was given a few moments to shine in the number "Le Hot Jazz..
  • Other ensemble memebrs are: Brittany Bigelow, Taylor Colins, Kaleigh Cronin, Vincent D'Elia, Sarah Ellis, Darrin French, Chris Kane, Christina Laschuk, Vanessa Mitchell, Jamie Patterson, Addie Tomlinson.
The performance that I attended capped off the historic week that saw the SOCUS proclaim gay marriage legal in all 50 states.  Members of the cast made a brief speeches following the curtain call, mentioning how timely are many of the themes of this show that first opened on Broadway 20 years ago.

"Victor/Victoria" will run through July 18, and will be followed by "Nice Work If You Can Get It" beginning on July 22.

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