Paper Mill Playhouse, NJ - November 2000
Review by John Kenrick
McLane and Lee Roy Reems
What a revelation! Remember Victor/Victoria, the magical film that
became a not-so-magical Broadway show? Well, New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse
has once again outclassed a Broadway original, proving that this much maligned show
is first-rate musical comedy fun.
Some things are much the same as on Broadway. Robin Wagner's lavish sets and
Willa Kim's eye-popping costumes are still here, albeit in their slightly simplified
touring versions. The Blake Edwards script has been tweaked to clarify
the action, and they've dropped the tedious "Paris Makes Me Horny"
while adding Frank Wildhorn's "Who Can Tell," a show-stopping ballad for
Victoria. Otherwise, we get the Henry Mancini-Leslie Bricusse jewels that delighted us
on screen but previously fell a trifle flat on stage.
to making the most of a big old-fashioned musical like this one is
to let the audience fall in love with the main characters. In an age when so few people in
the theatre seem to understand this anymore, the Paper Mill team shows why theirs is one of
the most popular regional theatres in the world. Mark S. Hoebee's clear, stylish direction
brings out far more of the comic potential in the Blake Edwards
script than Edwards himself did on Broadway. The leading characters became sympathetic,
charming and believable which they never were on
Broadway. If this is any indication of what Mr. Hoebee can do, then Paper Mill has
scored a major coup by appointing him their new Associate Artistic Director.
It never hurts to have a dream cast. Lee Roy Reems walks off with the audience's
heart as Toddy, the gay entertainer who befriends the penniless Victoria and conceives of
her becoming "Victor," the world's greatest female impersonator. This master comedian
made every line count, and his final appearance in high drag made a mostly straight,
suburban audience blow the place apart with cheers! I couldn't help thinking how this bravura
performance would have nailed a Tony during any of the last dozen seasons.
Robert Cuccioli (Jekyll & Hyde) has a blast as King, the Chicago gangster
who cannot believe "Victor" is a man. And yes, he is still one of the most drop-dead
gorgeous men on any stage! With little to sing, Cuccioli gets to remind us what an
ingratiating comic actor he can be.
You've probably never heard of Judy McLane, but I promise you will in the
future she is sensational in the title role! Her New York appearances have yet
to win much attention, but she has been wowing Paper Mill audiences in recent seasons
as Evita, Aldonza and more. Her voice soars gloriously through every bit of this often
challenging score, and she deftly handles both the comic and romantic sides of
Victoria . . . and Victor. Hey Broadway wake up! Judy McLane is the new socko
star you keep claiming you've been looking for!
The supporting cast is excellent, with special kudos to luscious Tara O'Brien
as the blonde bombshell Norma, and the strikingly handsome Jody Ashworth as Squash,
the bodyguard with a secret. Arte Phillips' fine choreography is miles ahead of the
Broadway version, making "Le Jazz Hot" and other numbers genuinely exciting. Savvy Paper
Mill audiences do not make a habit of jumping to their feet and screaming through the
curtain calls, but that is exactly what they did on the night I saw this
If you live anywhere near New Jersey and have not been to Paper Mill , this is
the perfect excuse to check out this wonderful place. And theater lovers in Manhattan who
were disappointed by Victor, Victoria on Broadway should take note this
knockout production is only a short commuter train ride away. So get yourself to
Millburn for a little musical comedy vacation. This time, "Le Jazz" really
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