The Theatreguide.London Review
Southwark Playhouse Autumn-Winter 2012
Director Thom Southerland and the Southwark Playhouse have recently been making something of a habit of creating first-rate revivals of second-rate Broadway musicals. Following on their successes with Parade and Mack & Mabel, they now take on the Henry Mancini – Leslie Bricusse 1995 musical based on the 1983 film of the same name.
Film and musical, about an impoverished female singer who becomes a star through the double-bluff of pretending to be a female-impersonating man, were created by director Blake Edwards as vehicles for Julie Andrews (Mrs. Edwards), though the film was stolen by Robert Preston as Victoria's flamboyantly gay Svengali.
The musical is, it must be said, not very good. Without superstar power at its centre, the songs are exposed as generally poor-to-serviceable, with only a couple of the pastiche cabaret numbers, like Le Jazz Hot, having much energy, and the key plot and character-advancing songs particularly derivative and disappointing.
(The big dramatic number, Living In The Shadows, tries too hard to be a gay anthem like I Am What I Am, and its melody seems almost lawsuit-close to Lloyd Webber's As If We Never Said Goodbye.)
So it is another triumph for director-adaptor Southerland that you almost don't mind how shaky the raw material is. With choreographer Lee Proud and designer Martin Thomas, Southerland restages scenes and musical numbers in inventive and evocative ways, and effectively translates Broadway glitz into a low-budget fringe space.
He keeps things moving smoothly, creates the illusion of a more elaborate production, and draws attractive performances from his talented cast.
Anna Francolini, with at
least as many non-singing roles as musical ones in her CV, brings an
emotional reality to the lead role that Andrews (always the slumming
superstar) never gave it.
We believe not only her desperation at the beginning, but also the real liberation and empowerment she feels when people start treating her as a man, and of course her confusion when she finds herself in the Shakespearean dilemma of loving a man who thinks she's a man.
Richard Dempsey plays a gentler, more elfin Toddy than Robert Preston in the film, much to the production's benefit – he delights us in his every appearance without unbalancing the show.
Matthew Cutts can't do much with the Chicago gangster who faces the sexual confusion of loving Victor, but it's written as a thankless block-of-wood role, and Cutts generously serves the play in it.
As I wrote about Southerland's production of Mack & Mabel earlier this year, this is almost certainly the best revival of Victor/Victoria you are ever likely to see. It may even convince you the show was worth reviving.
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Review - Victor/Victoria - Southwark Playhouse 2012