Victor/Victoria [Southwark Playhouse]

Music by Henry Mancini & Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, book by Blake Edwards

‘Squash’ Bernstein – Michael Cotton
André Cassell – Mark Curry
King Marchand – Matthew Cutts
Caroll ‘Toddy’ Todd – Richard Dempsey
Victoria Grant – Anna Francolini
Hotel Manager / Choreographer / Sal Andretti – Dafydd Gwyn Howells
Restaurant Manager / Agent / Dancer / Inspector – Luke Johnson
Cosmetics President – Natalie Kent
Henri Labisse – Ashley Knight
Prostitute – Amira Matthews
Norma Cassidy – Kate Nelson
Richard / Dancer – Matthew Pennington
Simone Calisto / Waitress / Renée / Miss Selma / Chambermaid – Jean Perkins
Ensemble – Kayleigh Ross
Dancer/ Callboy / Stage Manager – Nick Stuart

The Band: Joe Atkins (musical director & keyboards), James Cleeve (accordion), Johanna Saarinen (violin), Petra Saxby (cello), Steve Clark, Paul Sadler & Erik Tomlin (reeds), Ben Wong, Mark Farrar (trumpets) and Nick James (percussion)

Thom Southerland – Director
Lee Proud – Choreographer
Martin Thomas – Set & Costume Designer
Howard Hudson – Lighting Designer
Andrew Johnson – Sound Designer

Reviewed by: Tom Vallance

Reviewed: 3 November, 2012
Venue: Southwark Playhouse, London SE1

By the time it reached Broadway as a full-scale musical starring Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria had proved its longevity as a vehicle for a versatile performer. It started life in 1933 in Germany as Viktor und Victoria, written and directed by Reinhold Schunzel as a showcase for Renate Müller, who played an entertainer posing as a female impersonator – a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman! The same year Schunzel directed a French version titled Georges et Georgette, and two years later, as First a Girl, it became one of Jessie Matthews’s most successful musicals, directed by Victor Saville. A German remake in 1975 preceded the most-renowned version, by writer-director Blake Edwards as a showcase for his wife Julie Andrews, superbly supported by Robert Preston, as a gay man who befriends the penniless Victoria and hits on the idea of the audacious masquerade, and James Garner as a Chicago gangster aghast that he is finding himself attracted to a woman who just may be a man. Half a dozen songs were written for the film by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse.

In 1995 Edwards transformed the film into a stage musical starring Andrews, with additional songs, but the show’s success was considered to be due to the enormous popularity of Julie Andrews. Is the show worth reviving without her? A guarded yes, for this production has a fine cast and it is directed by one of fringe theatre’s most accomplished craftsmen, Thom Southerland.

The show explores questions of sexual identity and presumptions that are always topical, and Southerland, with the original creators’ permission, has partially refashioned the piece and contributed some fresh humour. The part of Toddy, Victoria’s friend, has been enlarged to become a younger man to accommodate a finely nuanced portrayal by Richard Dempsey, hilariously taken aback when the gangster’s butch bodyguard (Michael Cotton) confesses his affection. When it transpires that the man can quote Shakespeare, having played in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dempsey muses, “You must have been a great Puck.”

As Victoria, Anna Francolini sings so well that one wishes she had some stronger ballads – ‘Living in the shadows‘ sounds like a reject from Sunset Boulevard – but she is better served by the lighter pieces, ‘Le jazz hot’ (from the film) and ‘Louis says’. That trusty comedy moment in which a smoking novice tries to feign familiarity with the pleasures of a cigar is given fresh appeal by Francolini’s adeptly farcical handling. Jean Perkins also provides much humour, and there is fine support from Mathew Cutts as the tough guy forced to question his own feelings, Kate Nelson as his ditzy mistress, and a group of energetic dancers who shine in Lee Proud’s inventive choreography.

No-one will ever list Victor/Victoria as a classic – the enjoyable libretto is wedded to a mediocre score – but, as presented here, it provides an entertaining night out.

  • Victor/Victoria is at the Southwark Playhouse, corner of Tooley Street/Bermondsey Street, London Bridge, London SE1, until Saturday 15 December 2012
  • Monday to Saturday 7.30 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.
  • Tickets 020 7407 0234
  • Southwark Playhouse

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