Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Dance Party: Miles From Her Own Little Corner

This week's Dance Party celebrates one of the very few successful movie musicals of the 1980s. Victor/Victoria was the brainchild of Blake Edwards, who was shopping around for a musical to showcase his wife at the time, Julie Andrews. Edwards was shrewd to take a lesson from Bob Fosse's landmark film of Cabaret: modern audiences are far more likely to accept singing actors if those actors are onstage at the time. Fosse famously jettisoned about half the original Cabaret's score, all "book" numbers, and showcased the songs performed onstage (and added a few new ones). I'm sure Cabaret will show up on the Dance Party eventually, since it is one of my favorite pieces of theatre or film. But back to Blake Edwards. He adapted a German film from 1933, Viktor und Viktoria, enlisted Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse to write a brand new score, and surrounded his wife/star with a couple of top-notch supporting players. Broadway veteran Robert Preston had a ball playing the gay best friend, and James Garner was a believable hoot as the manly gangster who can't quite understand why he is falling for a man who dresses in women's clothes. Victor/Victoria is a fun treatise on sexual identity, and is definitely worth a look if you have never seen it. There is also a DVD of the stage adaptation out there, filmed before a live audience when Andrews played the role on Broadway in 1995, but that video reflects a bloated stage show which did not adapt all that well to the stage. Stick to the film version. When you see it, you will be duly impressed with an over-the-top, hilarious performance by the star of this week's Dance Party, Lesley Ann Warren. Victor/Victoria put Warren back on the map, so to speak, as she had been floundering for several years, attempting to outgrow her sugary ingenue identity formed in the 1960s. She got her start on Broadway, appearing in 110 in the Shade, and she received nice notices for her performance in the notorious flop, Drat! The Cat! She tested for the role of Liesl when The Sound of Music was being filmed, a role she obviously lost. But in 1965, she became perennially attached to the Rogers and Hammerstein oeuvre when she appeared in the first television remake of their Cinderella. The original Cinderella, as everybody knows or ought to, was Julie Andrews, who performed the role once, in 1957, on live television. The show was preserved on lousy kinescope, so was unseen by the public for close to 50 years; it has since been cleaned up a bit and released on DVD. A clip from that production appears on this Dance Party. But when my generation thinks of Cinderella, we think of Lesley Ann Warren. Her version was preserved on videotape and rerun many times, in addition to eventually being released on VHS and DVD. That 1965 performance informed Warren's career for many years. Soon after, Walt Disney paired her with John Davidson in several musical films, one of which graced the Dance Party a while ago. Go here for that swell dance number pitting Lesley Ann against Goldie Hawn, of all people. Warren had a difficult time outgrowing the double-whammy of Cinderella and Disney, and as she matured, she had trouble graduating to more mature roles. She played Scarlett in a disastrous attempt to musicalize Gone With the Wind, and she spent one season on Mission: Impossible, during the period when she was billing herself as simply Lesley Warren. I guess she hoped that it was the "Ann" which was holding her back. She has long since regained her three names, and is now a respected character actress, with many recurring roles on many TV series to her credit. But it was this performance in Victor/Victoria which finally proved she had outgrown Disney and R&H. The character is a loud, screechy mobster moll, with that New Yoik accent we always expect. I may be able to pinpoint the exact moment in this film when Cinderella was finally put to rest: "Keeeeeng!" Warren's Norma Cassidy whines through a closed door,"I'm hoyneeeeeeee!" Bet Uncle Walt rolled over on that one, but the Academy did not; Warren was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. As you enjoy Leslie Ann Warren's big number from Victor/Victoria, it's fun to note that this sophisticated film, full of naughty double entendres and adult innuendos, stars the two actresses who each created an enduring, almost iconic, performance as the wholesome Cinderella . 
Lesley Ann Warren turned 64 this week.