Over the last several years, Allison Spratt Pearce has played some of the more iconic musical theater roles that were made famous by Julie Andrews. This includes Maria in The Sound of Music (Andrews played the role onscreen), Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and recently, Guinevere in Cygnet Theatre’s concert reading of Camelot.
Pearce is now playing another classic Andrews character in the Moonlight Stage Productions’ San Diego regional premiere production of Victor/Victoria, based on both the original 1933 film, “Viktor und Viktoria” and the Blake Edwards’ 1982 movie.
Set in the Paris of 1934, the story features a talented soprano Victoria Grant (Pearce), who is struggling to get work. She eventually meets another unemployed performer Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Lance Arthur Smith), who happens to be gay.
Toddy is convinced that they will both make more money if Victoria pretends to be a male drag queen “Count Victor Grazinski.” Their plan works well, but complications arise when a businessman with questionable connections King Marchan (Hank Stratton) falls for the disguised Victoria.
A consistent and strong aspect of the script is Edwards’ humor, which ranges from witty one-liners to some outright slapstick. The friendship between Victoria and Carroll, and their support of each other, is the best-developed relationship in the show, and their bond is well depicted by Edwards.
Edwards’ script isn’t quite so strong when it comes to the romance between Victoria and King, and this was also a flaw of the 1982 big screen hit. Their polar-opposite personalities make it difficult for the audience to be sold on their romance, a situation that is partly compensated for by the well-cast performers.
Pearce sings in a variety of different music genres ranging from jazz music to ballads, and her singing, dancing and verbal comic timing are excellent.
Smith is fun to watch playing Carroll as a witty schemer who is loyal to the people he cares about. This versatile performer sings and performs in an enjoyably carefree style, particularly in “You And Me,” a duet with Pearce. Pearce and Carter’s chemistry feels natural, and they share a charming rapport through the story.
Stratton brings an amusingly suave attitude to the role of King, especially in his solo number “King’s Dilemma,” and Bets Malone is hilarious as King’s saucy moll, Norma Cassidy.
Despite the excellent singing and acting by the performers, the music by composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Leslie Bricusse (with additional music by Frank Wildhorn) takes several sequences to fully click. The opening number, “Paris by Night,” isn’t as catchy as it should be, and the songs in scene 2, “If I Were a Man” and “Trust Me” rely too much on setting up the plot. However, once Victor sings “Le Jazz Hot,” arguably the most famous song from the motion picture, the music significantly improves.
The orchestra, led by music director and conductor Lyndon Pugeda, plays in a style that recalls Paris of the 1930’s.
John Vaughan’s direction keeps the audience entertained with his staging of Edwards’ humor, and his work as the choreographer, which feels influenced by Bob Fosse, is exciting, particularly during the club scenes.
Robin Wagner’ set, Willa Kim’s costumes (coordinated by Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd) and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting all add to the Paris nightclub ambience.
Despite the somewhat slow beginning, Victor/Victoria still features plenty of Edwards’ wit and another great Pearce performance. The night is an enjoyable end to another big summer for Moonlight Stage Productions.