Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, May 25, 2001

Charles E. Degala as gangster King Marchan, finds himself drawn
to Cathy Foy as Victor/Victoria, right. Foy sings beautifully in this
Diamond Head Theatre production but she's too
femme to play a dude.

Boy meets

DHT's flawed gender-bending
play is redeemed with
style and energy

By Scott Vogel

It's known primarily as a star vehicle for Julie Andrews' triumphant return to Broadway a few seasons back, but that's not the only distinction "Victor/Victoria" carries: It's also a potent reminder of just how troubled the American musical is. Haunted by memories of its heyday in the middle decades of the 20th century, it's an art form in desperate need of renewal. The musicals of the last 10 years can be fairly evenly divided into two camps: those shows that explore new ways of combining song and speech, and those that attempt (with increasing desperation, it must be admitted) to recreate the brio and wit of the old musicals.

"Victor/Victoria" is one of the latter brand, although brio and wit are not its strong suits. A tale of a penniless singer, Victoria (Cathy Foy), who morphs into a man playing a woman in drag, its plot demands nothing less than the utmost in audience gullibility. Then again, when it comes to musicals, we're used to this, having been trained over the years to accept a singing nun/governess, singing cowboys, singing gangsters, etc.


What: "Victor/Victoria"
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays through June 10
Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.
Tickets: $10 to $40
Call: 734-0274

Normally, it isn't the story that hooks us, of course, but the music itself, except (once again) in the case of "Victor/Victoria," which contains less than memorable tunes by Henry Mancini and rather embarrassing lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. (The lyricist seems to think that "capricious" rhymes with "delicious" and "apoplexy" with "taxi.")

Diamond Head Theatre has done about as well as might be expected given such unpromising material, crafting a production that's full of eye-popping sets and costumes. It appears as if no expense was spared, and set designer Wally White is to be commended for his depiction of, among other things, a pair of adjoining two-story hotel rooms, a marvelously kitschy Paris street scene and a faux-elegant nightclub by the name of Cassell's. Similarly, from Victoria's signature tuxedo to her 18th-century Marie Antoinette garb (employed in the number "Louis Seize") to the French silk pajamas worn by Victoria's gay friend Toddy (Greg Howell), Hugh Hanson's costumes are a perfect combination of both tacky and authentic glitz.

Speaking of Toddy, Howell has a tendency toward overgesticulation, which is one way of saying you could spot his flamboyance from a plane overhead, but otherwise his comic timing is good. As King Marchan, the gangster who finds himself uncontrollably drawn to gender-bending Victoria, Charles E. Degala acts decently and sings better, especially during the musical soliloquy in which he tries to sort out his feelings ("King's Dilemma").

Stealing the show, at least on the day I attended, was Tara Melia Hunt as King's girlfriend, a blond Mrs. Malaprop with the mouth of a sailor. The role is virtually foolproof as written, but Hunt brings great energy to the part (when she shimmies, the curtains shake), something that is frequently lacking in this production under John Rampage's direction. Foy sings beautifully and brings an eerie resemblance to Julie Andrews in the title role, but she's a bit tentative at present, her delicate mien more appropriate to Noel Coward comedies than the rowdy burlesque presented here.

Still, there are a few intimate, quiet interludes in the show, and Foy is captivating in all of them. At the end of Act 1, she is mesmerizing when crooning "Crazy World," a song about how crazy the world is. And she's equally enchanting opposite King in "Almost a Love Song," a duet about almost being lovers, and when singing the soaring chorus of "Living in the Shadows," about ... well, we'll let you figure that one out on your own. At such moments we don't quite reach musical heaven, but we're clearly knocking at the door.

Otherwise, the leads could take a lesson from the ensemble players, each of whom gives everything they've got to Rampage's well-choreographed dance sequences. There's not a happier collection of young people in town, and they're having the time of their lives.

Watching these kids extend themselves beyond the boundaries of high school theater is thrilling, an unmistakable sign that the American musical -- so often declared dead -- may yet survive after all.

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