A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in 1930s Paris.
That was the simple premise for Victor, Victoria, the Academy Award-winning 1982 film musical that starred Julie Andrews and was directed by her husband Blake Edwards (of Pink Panther fame).
The premise was the same when Victor, Victoria was transformed from a film to a stage musical in 1995, but by the time it reached Broadway there was very little celebration to greet it.
Although Victor, Victoria marked the Broadway return of Andrews, and Edward’s stage-directing debut, it was savaged by the critics. While Andrews remained critically unscathed in the big-budget musical, the reworked material by late composer Henri Mancini, lyricist Leslie Bricusse and composer Frank Wildhorn were all panned, along with Edward’s unfocused direction.
Audiences came mostly just to see Andrews, and many demanded their money back whenever an understudy went in place for her. During the run, the then 60-year-old Andrews was plagued by frequent health problems, and possibly damaged her singing voice beyond repair.
After a brief stint with Liza Minnelli and later Raquel Welch’s questionable turn in the title role, Victor, Victoria closed after 738 performances, recouping less than half of its $8.5 million investment.
While many find the adaptation of acclaimed original film musicals for the stage artistic sacrilege, producers and writers seem more willing than ever to take the gamble.
Already this season, a stage version of Footloose has made it to Broadway, while Fame-The Musical is touring with an anticipated Broadway stop in the future.
“Nowadays there is a need for recognizable commodities in Broadway musicals,” said Tom Markus, dramaturg for Pioneer Theatre Company.
Markus points out that with a recognizable title, credentials like awards or a Broadway run, and a star that will be known in the provinces, most musicals can eventually turn a profit by touring or through regional theater licensing.
“But, unless they can retain the essence of the original or completely reinvent it for the stage, most film musical adaptations will not work,” said Jim Christian, director of musical theater for Weber State University.
“There’s a lot of things you can’t do on stage that you can do in film,” said Christian. “If you try to stick too close to the film, you end up with just a watered-down treatment.”
But with the high costs of producing Broadway musicals and tickets, producers and audiences are sticking with shows they are already familiar with. Both Christian and Markus pointed out that’s why there are so many revivals and stage adaptations of film musicals today.
Local audiences will get to see the practice first-hand when a tour of Victor, Victoria headlining Toni Tennille and directed by Mark Hoebee, makes a stop in Salt Lake City. Then they can judge whether or not film musicals transformed into stage musicals in the 1990s should have remained film musicals.
Victor, Victoria plays March 2-5 at the Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South. Tickets are $22.50-$45 and can be purchased at ArtTix outlets, 355-ARTS.