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St. Louis by Robert Boyd

Victor/Victoria
Stages St. Louis

Also see Richard's review of The Winners

When we saw the pre-Broadway run of Victor/Victoria in Chicago years ago, the elaborate scenery required for the scenes of door-slamming farce wasn't working well, and there were moments when it seemed as if Julie Andrews was in physical danger. This, of course, was a major distraction, but mainly added to the overall impression that the show at that point was not ready for New York. It seemed both musically and dramatically underdone, or at least unpolished.

One could simply not ask for a better physical production than Stages the one St. Louis has put together for this final show of their 25th season. Mark Halpin's smoothly-working sets are cleverly imagined and beautifully finished, from the wood grains of the Left Bank Café to the seedy tables at Chez Lui to the rich fabrics and finishes in the hotel suites. Lou Bird's costumes, with some clever nods in the direction of A Chorus Line, are wildly varied—from the slightly rakish tuxedos of the gentlemen to the lovely frocks for Norma to the S&M gear in the "Apache" number to the hilarious gangster suits for Sal and Clam and Juke—and yet manage to belong together as an ensemble. The lighting, by Matthew McCarthy, is impeccable.

Still, despite this amazing technical infrastructure, this production, like the one we saw in Chicago all those years ago, seems frustratingly unfinished, as if the pieces aren't yet all in place. The synthesized music, never exactly the strong point of Stages' productions, is muddier and rhythmically more awkward than usual, and there are times—the second act duet "Almost a Love Song," for example—when the singers seem to be struggling to find both the pitch and the rhythm. Problems with microphone volume make some passages painfully loud. The choreography, unaccountably for Dana Lewis's work, is often clever but—again as in the "Apache" number—sometimes unimaginative and ungainly. Even the blocking sometimes lapses into disorder, especially in the second act scenes in which the timing of the door-slamming exits and entrances is absolutely crucial.

Shining through all of this, on the other hand, are the meltingly charming and energetic performance of David Schmittou, as Toddy; the lively—if somewhat over the top—antics of Melinda Cowan, as the scene-stealing Norma; and the deftly comic reading of "Squash" Bernstein by Steve Judkins. There is, apparently, nothing that Mr. Schmittou can't do on a stage, and do with the easy grace that comes from the combination of innate talent and hard work. Janna Cardia moves and sings well as Victoria, though she is forced willy-nilly into channeling Julie Andrews, not always comfortably. A bevy of Stages regulars do their usual splendid work in multiple supporting roles; standouts include Zoe Vonder Haar as Miss Selmer, Steve Isom as Sal Andretti, and John Flack as Juke, who almost steals a scene while standing wordlessly still.

I wish I could recommend this production without reservation, but—partly because of the show itself, and partly because the production just feels awkward—I'm left with the sense that people who haven't seen the movie may enjoy the plot, with its comic turns, and that people who do know the story will enjoy some dazzling performances, but that not many folks will come away humming the tunes.

Victor/Victoria will run through October 9 in the Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood. For ticket information, call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org.

Victor/Victoria
Book by Blake Edwards
Music by Henry Mancini with Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Produced by Stages St. Louis
Directed by Michael Hamilton
Choreographed by Dana Lewis


-- Robert Boyd

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