Phil was in the audience and after furiously waving his arm in a “Me sir! Me sir!” kind of way, was given the chance to ask his killer question:
“Do you ever watch your old films and if you do which one do you watch most often?”
A hushed audience (including a complete stranger called Andrew – this was pre-Whinger days) leaned forward as one in anticipation of the answer (that’s how Phil remembers it, anyway).
Julie paused thoughtfully before replying “I don’t watch my films, but if I did it would be Victor/Victoria“
Fast-forward to a post-show conflab on Tuesday evening in the Southwark Playhouse bar and Andrew tries to tell Phil about Dame Julie’s film selection, unaware that it was indeed Phil who had extracted this gem from the great lady. Phil puffed up proudly. ”But that was me! I asked that question!”
It’s a funny old world.
And it’s a funny old film and one that the Whingers are both extremely fond of.
The 1982 film was turned into a stage musical (1995) by its original director, Mr Julie Andrews (Blake Edwards) with music Henry Mancini, lyrics Leslie Bricusse, additional music and lyrics by Frank Wildhorn.
It is pretty much the finest hour of everyone involved: some terrific slapstick courtesy of Mr Edwards, highly hummable tunes from Senor Mancini, clever, witty lyrics from Mr Bricusse, a stand-out comedy performance from Lesley Ann Warren and a joyful romp of a turn from Robert Preston with the air of someone who has finally been allowed to really let his hair down.
Sadly Mancini didn’t live long enough to see the stage version and nor did the Whingers (see it, that is; sadly they did live long enough) which starred Julie then Liza (who took over when Julie’s vocal problems started) then Raquel.
If this reworked version by director Thom Southerland has anything going for it it is its star Anna Francolini who steps into the enormous flats and heels of her starry predecessors with no little aplomb.
She’s physically convincing as the penniless and starving soprano Victoria who falls in with an overly-camp impresario Toddy (Richard Dempsey) who we can only assume was born in Mincing Lane EC3. He convinces her she can pass herself off as Count Victor and become a female impersonator. So cross-cross-dressing then. It’s Cage Aux Folles with knobs on but with one less knob.
Unfortunately V/V comes without that show’s wit or musical elan, which is surprising given the talent behind the show. It almost, ahem, seems to bend over backwards to celebrate its gayness.
This was a preview (but only two nights before press night) so hopefully the foot-shooting, deliberately unimpressive magical act which lulls you into thinking the show has started has been dropped.
Hopefully, too, the sound balance has been sorted as we lost chunks of the lyrics to the large, thumping and excellent band (and what fantastic arrangements).
Francolini is terrific and has a good voice but her best vocal moment is a brief performance of “Cherry Ripe” at an audition during which she sounds uncannily like Andrews.
Jean Perkins makes her mark in a slew of cameo roles, though we should not be surprised, as we marked her out as “a new fave” on this very stage in They Came To A City.
There are some good songs including “Le Jazz Hot” of course but “Shady Dame” has been dropped and of the “written-for-the-stage-version” numbers only “Victor/Victoria” is at all catchy but like all the new songs remains something of a mystery because we were unable to hear the lyrics which was disappointing as (a) we were in the front row and (b) they’re all miked.
The decision to cast Robert Preston’s role with a much younger man is a bold, curious and unrewarding one, the production values are not high enough to support the club “spectacles” and the sound (as we may have mentioned) is atrocious.
But the harsh truth is that V/V the show is just not a patch on V/V the film and it never will be.