Victor/Victoria at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Photos by Eric Chazankin

Abbey Lee (center), with chorus

Love by Any Other Name Would Still Be Hilarious

During the Weimar era of the 1920s and early 1930s, before Hitler came to power and crashed the party, Berlin was an incubator for expressionistic film and theatre. Creativity and originality flourished like orchids in a hothouse. It was here that Marlene Dietrich developed her iconic cabaret style. Daring, visionary films like The Blue Angel, Nosferatu and Metropolis were created.  From this heady environment sprang the gender-bending musical comedy film Viktor und Viktoria.

Fast-forward to 1982. Filmmaker Blake Edwards decided the story would be a perfect vehicle for his wife, singing star Julie Andrews. In a month he had a new screenplay, with fabulous new songs by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse. His film Victor Victoria was a smash hit, garnering an Oscar for best original musical score. In 1995 Edwards adapted  his film into the Broadway sensation Victor/Victoria with additional songs and over 700 performances. There was a Tony Award for Andrews, which she famously declined because she felt the rest of the cast had been overlooked.

Tim Setzer

The premise involves a down-and-out British penny-opera singer named Victoria Grant who finds herself in Paris and out of work. Gay cabaret performer Toddy comes to her rescue with a brilliant idea: why not present her to Paris’ top talent agent as a male impersonator? Sure enough,  almost overnight “Victor” is the number-one must-see act in all of Gay Paree.  Dignitaries and underworld figures alike flock to his/her shows, including a Chicagoland nightclub owner and rum-runner named King Marchan. After seeing Victoria perform, Marchan is not at all convinced that “she” is really a “he”.  Of course the two fall madly in love, and the most delightful complications arise.

Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio

Napa Valley Playhouse Artistic Director Michael Ross directs the current production at 6th Street Playhouse. It packs an entertainment wallop with a cast chock-full of top local talent. Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio (Spamalot, Great American Trailer Park Musical) in the title role is a commanding presence and nails both the part and the English accent, hitting all those glass-shattering high notes with ease. She’s nearly pitch-perfect, especially in her duets and ensemble numbers, although warbling a bit in her solos.  Tim Setzer (Scrooge, Young Frankenstein) sparkles in the role of Toddy, delivering a deliciously arch performance and strong vocals. At first Anthony Guzman seemed a bit young for such a seasoned tough-guy mobster like Marchan, but he eases into the role and maintains a sturdy, romantic support for DeGuilio.

A very pleasant surprise is Abbey Lee as Marchan’s “moll”, the dim-bulb chorus girl Norma. Lee nearly runs off with the show every scene she’s in, especially musical numbers like “Chicago, Illinois” and “Paris Makes Me Horny”. It’s a showy part, to be sure, but Lee is superb at chewing the scenery and sizzles like a firecracker while doing it.

Director Ross uses good, solid staging and scene changes, and keeps the jazz hot from beginning to end. It would have been nice if set designer Vincent Mothersbaugh had used more Art Deco influence for some of the interior scenes, since the show is set in Paris, the birthplace of Art Deco, in the very Art Deco period of 1933. Nonetheless, the set works. Beautiful lighting by April George creates the perfect ambiance, as does the agile choreography by Staci Arriaga. The orchestra was not quite in tune during the overture and Act I, but they improved during the course of the evening and by Act II had warmed up.

This is truly one of the funniest and most heartwarming musical comedies ever, and the crew at 6th Street has done a wonderful job in presenting it. But it’s more than that – it’s also a love story for the ages. As Ross says, “The timeliness of this love story is not lost on contemporary audiences as we, as a society, evolve (however slowly) in the acceptance of the many shapes and forms that love can take.” And when love is this much fun, who can argue?

When: Now through February 2, 2014

8:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday

2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Tickets: $15 to $35

Location: GK Hardt Theater at 6th Street Playhouse

52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA
Phone: 707-523-4185