Posted by Broadway Doctor Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I finally got around to seeing Dietrich and Chevalier: The Musical which opened June 20th at the St. Luke's Theater on 46th St. This modest production starring Robert Cuccioli and Jodi Stevens (Jekyll & Hyde) follows the careers of 1930s film icons and singers, Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier, who shared a secret love and lasting friendship. What makes this musical interesting is that it's basically a love story between a German movie star and a French movie star working together in Hollywood, whose relationship got considerably complicated when Germany invaded France and continued to occupy Paris. Additionally, both actors were accused of being traitors; Dietrich for working in "Jewish Hollywood," and Chevalier for aiding the Nazi occupiers. There aren't enough plays that take place in Nazi occupied Paris, a sometimes forgotten part of WWII. However, as well as a concept this story and setting is for an Off-Broadway musical, there are more than a few weaknesses in this production.
What's wrong with Dietrich and Chevelier?
1) The story isn't interesting until act two. There are half as many songs in act two, because all of the book scenes are there. The first act is more like a musical review, showing off the classic tunes the two stars are known for. It takes place in Hollywood, and for such a glamerous time, the modest production doesn't do the time or place justice. We never feel like Dietrich and Chevelier are performing for large crowds, or swanky 1940s nightclubs because we're sitting in the rinky St. Luke's Theatre. In act two, the conflict begins, when the couple are separated. Both are being pursued by their native countries. If only there were this much drama or historical uncovering in act one. Act one is all about falling in love, and making big movies. Act two is about politics, tragedy, and uncertainty. Find a new place for the intermission, and rewrite the two acts.
2) Tony down the accents. Or get better actors. I'm joking of course, Cuccioli and Stevens are excellently cast. However, their devotion to their characters iconic German and French accents comes off as cartoony in Act one. It seems too much like an impersonator cabaret show. It is sometimes distracting, and I feel like the actors were directed poorly to impersonate rather than to feel natural in the role.
3) Bring more tension in the end. Chevelier is on trial for aiding the Nazi's after the war has ended. The audience must really feel like he is going to prison, or worse. However, when Dietrich arrives at the trial to defend him, its too soon. We know she's going to save the day. Heroes and good luck must always be ushered in at the last possible moment. This builds suspense. It ruins the surprise to have Dietrich march in at the beginning of the scene and announce she's speaking on behalf of the President of the United States.
Three basic flaws, in an overall stimulating show. The talent is high, and I learned a thing or two. What more can you ask for?