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Review: Stage Door's 'Victor/Victoria' is all switch and no bait

Correspondent

Blake Edwards’ clever 1982 gender-bending “Victor/Victoria” was a lighter-than-air movie comedy with a heart and a heavyweight cast: Robert Preston as Toddy, a gay nightclub performer in 1930s Paris; Julie Andrews as the down-on-her-luck English soprano Victoria Grant; James Garner as King Marchand, a mob-connected Chicago nightclub owner who’s creeped out when he finds himself falling for the disguised-as-a-guy Victoria.

Transformed into a Broadway musical in 1995, “Victor/Victoria” had a decent run — 734 performances over nearly two years — but the show didn’t replicate the movie’s magic.

Now at Margate’s Stage Door Theatre, “Victor/Victoria” is displaying its flaws along with its strengths, particularly in this production’s leaden first act. Although the company’s recent production of “Nice Work if You Can Get It” was as delightfully fizzy as it gets, “Victor/Victoria” largely falls flat except for a stretch in the second act when everything magically clicks.

With a book by Edwards, music by Henri Mancini, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and additional music by Frank Wildhorn, “Victor/Victoria” centers on a woman playing a man playing a woman.

English light-opera singer Victoria (Dalia Aleman) is penniless in Paris when she meets Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Larry Buzzeo), who has just been dumped by his lover Richard (Michael Cartwright) and fired from his job at Chez Lui. Toddy has a brainstorm, persuading Victoria to pretend to be Count Victor Grazinski, a “noted” (though fictional) female impersonator from Poland. She does and — voilà — becomes the toast of Paris. Though in male drag, she also proves strangely alluring to tough-guy King (James A. Skiba), which deeply irritates his ditzy gal pal Norma Cassidy (Ashley Rubin), the queen of malapropisms.

Although director Kevin Black, choreographer Danny Durr, costume designer Jerry Sturdefant and lighting designer Ardean Landhuis have obviously put plenty of effort into trying to make their “Victor/Victoria” sparkle, the performers labor mightily while rarely achieving effervescence.

Buzzeo is a suave, pleasant Toddy who punctuates some of his lines with a quick, ingratiating grin. But the rapier putdown, one of the character’s weapons, is not convincingly in his arsenal.

Aleman’s voice, light at first, grows stronger in the second act and is particularly appealing in her solo “Living in the Shadows” and her duet with Skiba, “Almost a Love Song.” Her Victoria and Skiba’s vocally powerful King don’t have the chemistry suggesting an irresistible attraction, however, and the fact that Aleman’s “English” Victoria doesn’t bother with a British accent is inexplicable.

Troy Stanley is a real asset as Squash Bernstein, King’s ex-football player bodyguard, a guy with many talents and a major secret. Rubin is way over-the-top as Norma, but that’s OK, because that’s the kind of gal the character is. Michael Schneider, Kevin Reilley and Cartwright also do solid work in their smaller roles.

Black pushes the physical comedy hard, evoking memories of Edwards’ “Pink Panther” movies. Diminutive Elissa Solomon, for example, gets picked up and carried, then has an extended bit as a busybody chambermaid who wrestles with the scenery, milking every move for laughs until the moment is drained dry.

The set, credited to Stage Door Scenic, leaves little room for ensemble members Jerel Brown, Carly Dorman, Jonathan Eisele, Luis Gomez, Barry Kramer, Natalie McPherson, Cat Pagano and Alexandra Van Hasselt to maneuver, let alone dance.

Musical director David Nagy gets the cast singing to tracks by orchestrator David Cohen, but if you’re sitting in the wrong spot in the theater, the vocals are obscured by the sound blasting from the speakers.

If only the sound were more balanced, the stage roomier and the entire show had that welcome second-act spark. C’est la vie.

“Victor/Victoria” is running through June 10 at the Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, in Margate. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday. Tickets cost $48. To order, call 954-344-7765 or go to StageDoorFl.org.

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