‘Victor/Victoria’ // Beenleigh Theatre Group

‘Victor/Victoria’ was pertinent.

If you haven’t seen the 1982 film ‘Victor/Victoria’ starring Julie Andrews, it is a safe bet that you’ve not seen the stage version which is seldom produced in Australia. Rare for its time, the show openly discusses social issues such as gender equality and sexuality. While it aims to be a comedy, the long list of writers of the show struggled to balance the heavy weight of the central themes and comedy, especially in a time when these things were not so openly spoken about.

‘Victor/Victoria’ is set in 1930s Paris. There, Victoria — a down-on-her-luck Brit with a set of golden vocal chords — meets Toddy, an aging gay nightclub emcee who convinces her that their road to riches and fame begins with Victoria passing herself off as a female impersonator … in other words, a woman pretending to be a man who is playing a woman.

The act is a runaway hit, and “Victor” catches the eye of an American sort-of gangster named King Marchan. His attraction to the performer who may or may not be of the same gender causes existential angst. And so, the farce begins…

‘Victor/Victoria’ is still piercingly relevant today with its themes of gender equality and sexuality and acceptance and due to the show being lesser known, there was a real opportunity here for the production team, led by director Julie Smith, to really make it relevant to today’s audience. It would have been interesting to see what Smith could have done with it by focusing more on the theme of the show, rather than just the visual aesthetics.

This could have been done with a minimalistic and symbolic approach to set design and focusing more on character development and theme. There are moments when the show begins to be amusing or affecting with tender scenes between Victor and King, but then it turns into a play that’s more about going through the motions and moving sets, rather than about real people.

The show had strong leading players on which to lean, none more so than Jane Rapley as Victoria (and Victor), who balanced deftly between empowerment and crushing doubt. The score gave her plenty of chances to shine — she centered the ensemble in the flapper-flavoured “Le Jazz Hot”, and melded vocal power and vulnerability in the Act One finale, “Crazy World.” with virtuosic flair, Rapley aced each and every opportunity, and never once felt overly showy.

David Austin, too, took a less-is-more attitude in a gentle, wise, never-catty turn as Toddy. His comic timing was sublime, and he also captured the more aching, sensitive side of the role. It was clear that this is a role Austin was passionate about as the character portrayal was warm and inviting, and oozed a comfortable sincerity, leaving many of the audience wanting him as their new best friend.

King Marchan, Victoria’s love interest, was played with suave masculinity by the handsome Michael McNish. Unfortunately, his character is given very little to do except to sneak around between hotel rooms, trying to prove to himself that Victor is really a woman (King’s Dilemma). With that said, Michael gave the role a third dimension with his sincere body language and genuine conflict in following his heart during a time that wasn’t comfortable with the idea of homosexual relationships.

Isabel Kraemer reveled in her role as Norma, a gratingly funny bimbo with bleached blonde curls and King’s girlfriend. She got most of the laughs in the show with her malapropisms, and the lively dance number “Chicago, Illinois”. Accolades must be given to Kraemer for her fierce wit and comedic timing, although her diction was not always as clear as it could be in some of the more complex songs.

For the ensemble in this production, it was refreshing to see a range of ages and genders – which worked perfectly for the bigger ensemble numbers, giving them a more grounded and realistic feel. The choreography, lead by Lynette Wockner, took the ‘less-is-more’ approach, which was a good chance for the ensemble to create well-rounded background characters.

‘Victor/Victoria’ is a unique night at the theatre, and with a little more time to polish the dance numbers and give the orchestra a chance to sync with the vocalists, the show will progress far and there is no doubt at all audiences will enjoy it!

‘Victor/Victoria’ is on stage at the Crete Street Theatre in Beenleigh until May 11 2019. To find out more visit http://beenleightheatregroup.com.

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