Backstage Review: ‘Victor Victoria’ at Bruka Theater
Review by Norm Robins
Photos by Dana Nollsch
“Victor Victoria” is a Romeo-and-Juliet story. What’s different about this particular Romeo-and-Juliet story is it comes from the zany, inventive, brilliant imagination of Blake Edwards. Edwards is a master of appearances only semi-attached to reality. He does this superbly, and he does it to music. This musical is about two star crossed lovers in Paris in 1934. It was a time of opulence cheek by jowl with grinding poverty. It was a time of booze and rapidly changing morality. It was the Jazz Age.
Carroll “Toddy” Todd works tenuously as a female impersonator at Henri Labisse’s gay night club Chez Lui (His House). A destitute singer Victoria Grant auditions for Labisse, but he is not interested. During a performance, Toddy insults some customers, including his ex-lover. Labisse fires Toddy. Now both Toddy and Victoria have something in common. They are out of work and without hope of paychecks. Melancholy sets in, friendship, too.
Victoria is out of rent money and has been evicted from her apartment. Toddy offers to put her up at his place, which she accepts. It’s okay; he’s gay. She gets into a pair of pajamas that Toddy’s lover had left behind when he left in a huff. Surprise, they fit her. What’s more, they suit her. She looks good in them. She looks like she belongs in them. A light bulb goes on in Toddy’s head. Eureka! What if Victoria is a gay man and a female impersonator? Could a woman impersonate a man impersonating a woman? They agree to give it a try, Victoria reluctantly, Toddy enthusiastically.
King Marchan is a notorious nightclub owner from Chicago vacationing in Paris. He sees Victor do his female impersonator act. King doesn’t fall for it. He knows Victor is a woman, and he is smitten by her. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Romeo pines for Juliet. He says, “But soft what light through yonder window breaks. It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” It is mellifluous. It is melodious. It is tender. Would Edwards put such words in King’s mouth? Of course not. Edwards is much edgier. King exclaims to Victor/Victoria, “I don’t care if you are a man!” Then he plants a passionate kiss on Victor’s lips. He falls for her. She/he falls for him. But She/he is a denizen of the world of drag queens and female impersonators. This is anathema to the gangsters from King’s Chicago. We have not the rivalry of two Renaissance Italian families but two different milieus. This makes for a more engaging, unique plot. Shakespeare would never have thought this one up.
Now we not only have an updated Romeo and Juliet. We have a comical look at how comfortable we are (or are not) in our sexuality. It’s a fascinating twofer and a joy to watch. Thank you, Blake Edwards.
Amy Ginder as Victoria steals the show. She is a singer with a big, dramatic voice. She portrays a lovable Victoria who warms to her newfound role as a man, a role Victoria has long envied. Michael Peters as Toddy carries the show. Sophie Moeller playing King’s gun moll Norma Cassidy is hilarious. She plays the part to the hilt. Moderation be damned! Director Bill Ware has assembled a terrific cast and directed it ably. Catherine Eardly has choreographed dance routines that are a lot of fun and costumes by Deborah Morrison surprise and delight. A six-piece band nicely rounds out the cast. Sarah Coyle’s violin provides tender music to add to the play’s tender moments.
This finale to Brüka’s 2018/2019 season is a grand one and lots of fun. It is very well worth seeing. Victor/Victoria will be performed June 21, 2019, through July 27, 2019, at the Brüka Theater. For more information and tickets go to http://www.bruka.org/.
Director – Bill Ware
Musical Director – Bill Quinby
Choreographer – Catherine Eardley
Carole “Toddy” Todd – Michael Peters
Victoria Grant – Amy Ginder
King Marchan – Jake Steinman
Norma Cassidy – Sophie Moeller
Henri Labisse – Jasper Unger
Andre Cassell – Mark Taxer
Richard Dinardo / ENS – Robert Simpson
Sal Andretti / ENS – John Walmsley
Cosmetic President / ENS – Chelsie Morgan
Gregor / Clam / ENS – JaytonNewbury
Choreographer / ENS – Robin Soli
Miss Selmer / ENS – Paige Tatem
Madame Roget / ENS – Jennifer Flynn
Squash Understudy / ENS – Kyle Giboney
Flower Girl / ENS – Valerie Huston
Rotating Flower Girls (various weeks) – Molly Stewart, Marti Creveling, Bernadette Garcia
Keyboard – Bill Quinby
Bass – Liam Quinby
Drums – Adam Van Brocklin
Keyboard – Angelo Monroy
Keyboard – Marilee Mallett
Violin – Sarah Coyl