Sometimes it takes a little subterfuge to get to the truth. That’s what artists of all stripes like to say, anyway.
But don’t tell that to Parisian nightclub owner and über busybody Henrietta LaBisse (Leslie Vincent), who has no life and seems unaware that she should get one. Henrietta is so hellbent on verifying the gender of the female impersonator named Victor — the one everyone is going gaga about — that she blots out any opportunities for her own fulfillment.
While everyone around her finds romance and some happiness, Henrietta ends up alone and comically struck by lightning in “Victor/Victoria,” now playing in Michael Matthew Ferrell’s gorgeous soft-shoe production at Artistry in Bloomington.
The show stars Ann Michels in the title role of a woman who plays a man who’s a female impersonator in order to get work as a singer in 1930s Paris. Michels delivers an incandescent performance, one that is relaxed, confident and measured.
In fact, her effortlessness is so inspiring that more than one audience member left the theater singing “Le Jazz Hot” a bit too loudly.
Michels is inhabiting a role created for and by an icon: Julie Andrews. The famous singer’s husband, director Blake Edwards, wrote the book for this adaptation of some earlier films. He teamed with composer Henry Mancini for the stage production that had its pre-Broadway tryout at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis in 1995.
Andrews played Victor in a much lower register (the show ran on Broadway for 734 performances). At Artistry, where the supple eight-piece orchestra is conducted by Anita Ruth, they have changed the registers for Michels, who is more natural and nuanced as she plays with gender tropes.
The principals acquit themselves well in this production. Rich Hamson, best known as the resident costume designer at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, is witty as Toddy, the fired nightclub host who persuades Victoria to become Victor. He has surefire timing, delivering with relish. Emily Scinto is a discovery as Norma Cassidy, the girlfriend of Chicago gangster King Marchan (a stylish Shad Olsen). With her thick accent and moll-ish giggle, Scinto steals every scene she enters, including the one with the memorable “Paris Makes Me Horny.”
There are also smaller, but notable turns by Brandon A. Jackson as artist rep Andre Cassell and Eric Smedsrud as bodyguard and onetime football center Squash Bernstein.
Ferrell’s production is suffused with understated elegance. A warmly lit lamp and bench (Jeff Brown did the scenic and lighting design) is all you need to suggest the romance of Paris. The choreography includes sensual period moves.
The resolution of “Victor/Victoria” suggests a story about finding love, which I’ve always found to be something of a marketing handle, if not a cop-out. The show is really about freedom and identity. Victoria wants the same freedoms that men enjoy in a society built around and for them. Gay characters want to be comfortable in their own skin.
The show is in conversation with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which orbits similar themes and is getting a bang-up performance by Tyler Michaels King in a Theater Latté Da production at the Ritz.
How fortunate for the Twin Cities to have Michels and Michaels King delivering tentpole performances in shows that originated in the ’90s but speak to us so viscerally today.