Victor/Victoria - Marquis Theatre, New York, New York
Advocate, The, Feb 18, 1997 by Charles Busch
A long with Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli is probably one of the gay icons most imitated by female impersonators. So it's wonderfully fitting that for several weeks she replaced Julie Andrews in the Broadway musical Victor/Victoria, playing a woman who wins fame by pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. When Liza appeared onstage in full sequined regalia belting "Le Jazz Hot," it was as if Victoria had become the world's greatest Liza Minnelli impersonator.
Minnelli is a genuine Broadway star of the old school, who must be seen live to be truly appreciated. I caught an early performance, and though she was still tentatively feeling her way through the show, she managed to give a great star turn. At its worst, Minnelli's eternal gaminelike enthusiasm and sincerity can be cloying and irritatingly unspontaneous. Appearing here, underrehearsed in a complicated role, Minnelli had an honest vulnerability that was very appealing.
There has been so much adverse publicity surrounding her in the past year: reports of a Judy-like descent into drugs and of the hip-replacement surgery that curtailed her dancing. Minnelli's appearance in Victor/Victoria put all the rumors to rest. She looked young and robust and danced in newly augmented choreography that featured her trademark Fosseesque moves. Her voice, which has never been traditionally beautiful, was a flexible Broadway instrument, alternately powerful and wistful. Composer-lyricist Leslie Bricusse added one new ballad, "Who Can I Tell?" which replaced the song "Crazy friend of World," allowing Liza more opportunity to be Liza.
Victor/Victoria remains an excellent production of a mediocre show. For gay audiences, it's fun seeing a huge multimillion-dollar musical with such a wildly pro-gay message. Adapted by writer-director Blake Edwards from his 1982 movie, the play is also not quite as simplistic as the film. In this version, the sexy gangster with whom Victoria falls in love decides to make love to her while he still believes her to be a man. It's only after they kiss that she tells him her true gender. And for a lesbian audience, the sight of Julie Andrews or Liza Minnelli in male drag dancing a sexy tango with gorgeous Rachel York is rather tantalizing.
As for the question of who makes the most convincing drag king, I'd say Julie has the edge in masculine swagger, but Liza has those growling low notes. The truth is, neither star is truly convincing as a man. Julie seems like an elegant 19th-century lesbian, and Liza like a feisty Italian dyke.
At any rate, what does it matter? A freind Liza's recently told me that took her to a gay club in Los Angeles. When she went into the rest room, a drag queen was putting on makeup in front of the mirror. The drag queen took one look at Liza and, mistaking her for a fellow gendr illusionist, quipped, "Keep trying, honey."
COPYRIGHT 1997 Liberation Publications, Inc.COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group