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Victor/Victoria -- a musical comedy with a twist

Victor/Victoria is coming to Duluth this week. The popular Broadway musical features lots of singing and dancing, fantastic costumes and sets -- in short, everything one would expect from a stage show from New York City. This production will have...

Victor/Victoria is coming to Duluth this week.
The popular Broadway musical features lots of singing and dancing, fantastic costumes and sets -- in short, everything one would expect from a stage show from New York City.
This production will have an unusual twist. One of the members of the cast has connections to Duluth.
Kathleen France, who has five different parts in the show as well as sings, has a great-uncle who lives here and is in the entertainment business himself.
John Snee, who is the senior district manager for Minnesota Public Radio, worked as a DJ and announcer on KDAL-FM for 30 years. He was a weatherman on television in the early '60s and '70s, too, although old-timers won't recognize him by his name.
"My air handle was John Russell," Snee said. "I used my first name and my middle name."
Snee grew up with France's mother, and remembers that his great-niece had wanted to be an actress ever since she was a young girl.
"On trips back to Minnesota, Kathy and her sister, Caroline, would always do a few skits for us in the kitchen -- but that was in her youth," he said.
When Snee found out that France was coming to Duluth in the Victor/Victoria production (they communicate frequently by e-mail), he mentioned it to John Isaacson, the executive director of the Duluth-Superior Entertainment League, which is bringing the musical to town.
Snee and Isaacson worked together for years when both men were with KDLH-TV. Isaacson said he was delighted to hear the news. It's always nice to have a local connection in a show, he said.
For France, those acting forays in Minnesota were just an example of what she has wanted to do ever since she was in junior high school.
"My mom wanted me to be a ballerina," France said in a telephone interview from Ames, Iowa, where the troupe was preparing for a performance last week. "When I was 2, she put me into ballet school, so I started dancing when I was really young."
But after a few years, dancing bored her, and she began taking gymnastics. She also started taking choir in the fifth grade as well as studied the clarinet and oboe.
Her first play in junior high school changed her life.
"I loved it," she said. "When I went to college, I got a scholarship for singing and playing the oboe."
But when she realized that all she could do with a music degree was teach, she decided to switch to musical theater. Musical comedies use all her talents, she said. "If you can sing, dance, act and play an instrument, it'll be that much easier for you to get a job."
Victor/Victoria is not her first job by any means. "I've been working continuously since I graduated from college."
The acting jobs have been at theme parks, including at Disneyland in Tokyo, a number of different dinner theaters and regional theaters, as well as two different assignments on Norwegian cruise ships. France moved to New York City after her stint in Tokyo and began auditioning for every show she could.
"It's a full-time job," she said. "You wait in line all day long, and then you get to sing 16 measures for the director. Then you get a call back or you don't get a call back. It's a very long, strenuous process. I'll probably go to 100 auditions and get about 10 jobs."
But it's worth it, she said. She played Patsy Kline in "Always Patsy," in a theater in Upstate New York, and she was in Kismet in a theater in Massachusetts. And she's on the short list to tour with Cabaret.
Victor/Victoria has really been fun, she said. The story, written by Blake Edwards with a score by Henry Mancini, takes place in Paris in the 1930s, where a beautiful actress who is down on her luck meets a performer in a gay club. "He comes up with this idea -- she should pose as a drag queen and they'll make all this money," France said. "So there's a woman pretending to be a man playing a woman. It's very, very funny. It does deal with a kind of risque issue, but it's very farcical."
France does not have the lead, but plays a number of different roles. "I play about five different characters," France said. "In the first scene, I'm Madame Roget, an old, decrepit kind of woman who kind of cleans everything up. The second is a reporter, the third is a chambermaid, then some random girl. I also understudy the role of Norma."
She will get a chance to play Norma later this month when the show is in Michigan, she said.
Being on the road all the time can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating, France said.
The schedule is brutal. The touring company plays a different city every night, six nights a week. "I'm really getting to see a lot of the United States," France said.
And the traveling can be dangerous. The day before the Anchorage Airlines plane crashed into the ocean, the group had taken a flight on it. "I'm horrified of flying, anyway," France said.
Generally the cast travels by bus. They usually leave about 6 a.m., arriving at their destination in the afternoon. Then there's the sound check, a quick dinner and the performance.
The challenge and fun is in the variety of places they perform, she said. Stages are often as different as are audiences. Working in this show has been great, she added, because the production is fabulous as well as funny. "It's totally an adventure," she said.
News to Use
Victor/Victoria is onstage at the DECC at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, presented by the Duluth-Superior Entertainment League.Tickets range from $19 to $36. For reservations, call the Duluth-Superior Entertainment League at 722-2000, TicketMaster at 722-2121 or visit the DECC ticket office.

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