Review – Victor/Victoria, Southwark Playhouse

Friday 2 November 2012

A long while before she generously offered her Gift of Music, Julie Andrews was the subject of a Guardian interview at the NFT (now BFI).

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.


8 Responses to “Review – Victor/Victoria, Southwark Playhouse”

  1. M Says:

    Well I liked it… waiting for my WOS review to be published!

  2. Bob NW8 Says:

    well, well, well, V/V the show was not a patch on V/V the film even many years ago when it was produced.

    By the way, fact checking is not your forte, WEW, as La Liza did not take over from La Judy, she was just a substitute for two or three weeks in January 1997. I know as I was there, and it was a memorable night, and I enjoyed every second of it, but she was, how shall we put it, shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, very bad. Between her rehabs and hip replacements she was simply not what the role required, but it was great to see her, and no need to say that the audience loved every second of it and almost applauded from before she appeared on the stage till after she left the theatre.

    Back to the show, it was not that good, as it did not have the energy of the movie and while I saw it with stellar cast including Tony Roberts, Michael Nouri, Rachel York,Greg Jbara etc, with quite impressive choreography by then young Rob Marshall (fact checking WEW), there was simply something missing.

    Nevertheless, I am livid for I was not in London to see this production and I bet I would still have enjoyed it, even with all the sound problems. Hence, lucky you!

  3. Julia Eccles Says:

    i loved it too!

  4. mijosh Says:

    I hope you meant La Julie,Bob NW8

  5. David Clarke Says:

    Well i saw it on Thursday night and all the technical issues had been resolved and the show ran very smoothly !!
    I must commend Thom Sutherland for his courage on directing a show which was excellent in content and individual performances.
    His re-working makes this originally drab film worth seeing.

  6. […] Review – Victor/Victoria, Southwark Playhouse […]

  7. Vera Kelly Says:

    I saw it last Monday night and had a wonderful time- came out floating- have come out of west end theatres feeling very flat!Show was very slick with no tecnical hicups and all the peformers were fantasic in their roles !! Well done Thom Sutherland and all the cast!

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