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Liza Minnelli steps into Broadway’s ‘Victor/Victoria’

January 16, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Liza with a Z has become Victor with an ``ia″.

Trailing clouds of publicity and surviving a frantic rush by some critics to review her earliest performances, Liza Minnelli has stepped in for a month to replace Julie Andrews in the Broadway musical ``Victor/Victoria.″

Liza dear, rest easy. You’re doing just fine.

The actress, seen Wednesday after doing a week’s worth of shows, appears secure in the dual title role. Well, as secure as anyone whose tremulousness has become a trademark. She raises vulnerability to high art, with her dark saucer-shaped eyes, quivering lower lip and voice that breaks in the oddest places.

Ms. Minnelli is the opposite of her predecessor, a superstar whose charm resides in her crisp efficiency. The new Victoria Grant, female-male-female impersonator extraordinaire, is goofier, definitely more neurotic, but still inspires an enormous amount of good will.

And ``Victor/Victoria,″ based on Blake Edwards’ 1982 film, is a show that needs all the good will it can get. The musical is a throwback to the days when Broadway produced real stars, whose fans would go see them in just about anything.

``Victor/Victoria″ requires a lot of patience while you wait for the star’s turns. The show is an odd concoction, with a stronger story than score. Usually in musicals, it is the other way around.

Edwards’ stage adaptation stays surprisingly close to his original plot: A down-on-her-luck cabaret singer in Paris finds fame impersonating a man impersonating a woman. This gender-bending tale concerns her involvement with a Chicago gangster who can’t believe he is falling in love with a man. Of course, he isn’t, but he doesn’t know that for sure until late in Act 2.

For Ms. Minnelli’s engagement, the score, most of it by composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Leslie Bricusse, has been altered slightly. Two songs have been dropped and a new number, Bricusse’s solo effort ``Who Can Tell?,″ has been added.

The new number rests more comfortably in Ms. Minnelli’s vocal range, unlike several of the other songs, which clearly were tailored for Ms. Andrews.

Ms. Minnelli is not the singer she once was, but she is a savvy performer who knows how to utilize her strengths. Despite all the reports about her hip replacement, the performer moves confidently on stage, even attempting to join the chorus in the big dance number ``Le Jazz Hot.″

On a repeat hearing, the score still evaporates quickly, which may be a blessing considering the predictability of some of Bricusse’s lyrics.

The original supporting cast remains intact, and they are definite pluses. Tony Roberts, as Victoria’s gay confidant, is genial and supportive. The actor is the ultimate trouper, a rare commodity these days.

The sturdy Michael Nouri is appropriately befuddled as the gangster whose sexuality is called into question.

The standout performance remains Rachel York’s impersonation of the blond bimbo from hell. Forget that Ms. Andrews refused her Tony nomination last season. The real crime was that Ms. York wasn’t even nominated.

Yet the real reason audiences are coming to the Marquis Theater through Feb. 2 is to see Ms. Minnelli. Her fans won’t be disappointed, and neither will anyone else who appreciates a good old-fashioned star turn.

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