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Dietrich and Chevalier — The Musical
Robert Cuccioli (Jekyll and Hyde ) and Jodi Stevens ( Urban Cowboy ) have taken on the iconic roles in Jerry Meyer's new musical, Dietrich and Chevalier--The Musical now playing at The Theater at St. Luke's. Dietrich meets Chevalier after they are assigned neighboring dressing rooms at Paramount. They both have careers on the rise, are fiercely ambitious, possess robust egos and libidos. The ebb and flow of romance and career, however, moves to the back burner as Meyer's book focuses on the turmoil in Europe, the threatening war, the attitude of each star in dealing with the Nazis, and their parts in the war. Both stars, while working in Hollywood, remain loyal to their homelands. Dietrich is fiercely anti-Nazi and refuses to entertain for Germans in Paris or return to Germany during the Reich regime. Chevalier remains optimistic but eventually does what he must to protect his family living in France, which means entertaining German audiences in Paris and Germany. After the war, he is tried for treason.
Director Pamela Hall traces the relationship through a series of truncated scenes prodded along at appropriate moments by one of the signature tunes. Equipped with just the bare necessities, the snapshot sequences should move quickly through the 100 moments of show yet the pace is problematic and uneven. The show seems to struggle with identity. Would it be happier as a musical revue or a romantic play? Dietrich and Chevalier-The Musical aims for both here, but the musical comes out ahead, albeit with charming, familiar tunes like "Mimi" "Falling In Love Again" and "Isn't It Romantic?"
Karen Flood's costumes lend a sleek sexiness to Jodi Stevens' portrait of Dietrich. She captured the look and accent of the haughty Teutonic sophisticate with a heart. Dietrich knew how to put a naughty slant in a cheery tune like "You're the Cream in My Coffee" when singing it for the troops overseas. She knew who to befriend and when to drop a name— for example General Eisenhower.
Stevens' portrayal is carefully drawn. Cuccioli, with tilted straw hat and cane in hand, enthusiastically performs the many trademark songs with considerable charm and an engaging grin. Under duress, he evokes the Chevalier magnetism with his exuberant "Valentine" for the prisoners at Germany's Alten Grabow camp in 1943. His acting is most persuasive when Chevalier was in trouble after the war. In their scenes together, however, Stevens' Dietrich and Cuccioli's Chevalier always seemed more like friends than lovers.
Eight incidental characters are all played by Donald Corren. There is often not much to physically differentiate personalities like a French emcee, Dietrich's husband, producer Irving Thalberg, and Germany's foreign minister Von Ribbentrop. However, Corren gives a valiant try to give each an identity.
The movement through the years, 1932 to 1945, is merely hinted at through multimedia director Chris Jensen's slides flashed on the back panel without dates or names. Scott Heineman and Josh Iacovelli's set variations from Hollywood to Paris to the stage are spare but efficient. What must be saluted in this production is having the songs performed unplugged and both leads have confident voices to easily reach around the small theater. They are ably accompanied by Musical Director Ken Lundie.
Against such a dramatic era in history, fascinating legends like Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier in their golden days provide grist for a full theatrical treatment of their story. It has everything: romance, danger, sex, music, even a message. But in Dietrich and Chevalier--the Musical, it's just an outline.