Dietrich & Chevalier: The Musical
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
June 19, 2010
Dietrich and Chevalier, Jerry Mayer's play with music about the romance and friendship of Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier, is as harmless a show as you could possibly find. It certainly entertains—at least, the older matinee ladies around me were entertained. It could be a fairly interesting piece, but chintzy production values (Edward Gaynes and Emily Bettman are the presenters) do the script an extreme disservice, not that the script is all that strong to begin with.
As the play goes, Dietrich and Chevalier meet in 1932 in Hollywood. Both are married, both are movie stars. They quickly become romantically involved. She is nonplussed by the fact that she has a husband and child waiting for her; he quickly gets divorced. Their relationship ends, though they remain close friends. As World War II progresses, she becomes an American citizen to escape Nazi orders to go back to Germany, and begins a career entertaining the G.I.s. He stays in France, fleeing to the Riviera with his Jewish lover and her family, forced to entertain Nazi soldiers in Paris and Germany as blackmail.
Their biggest hit songs—"Valentine," "Lili Marlene," and "Falling in Love Again" among them—are either shoe-horned in as "character" songs (as in all jukebox shows) or are performed as nightclub/G.I. performances. Director Pamela Hall's staging, on the extremely cramped stage of the Gaynes-operated St. Luke's Theatre (which it shares with My Big Gay Italian Wedding and Danny and Sylvia), lacks tension and heart.
As a result, the performances suffer. Robert Cuccioli—usually very fine—seems uncomfortable and quite forced as Chevalier. Jodi Stevens's Dietrich is more of a caricature than anything else. Donald Corren, rounding out the trio as "8 fascinating characters," from Dietrich's husband to the stereotypically detestable Nazi officers, comes off the best. The stage is so tiny that the three of them look like they're going to hit their heads on the ceiling.
Every scene ends in an abrupt blackout, with scene changes that take too long following, as the set (designed by Scott Heineman and Josh Iacovelli) isn't automated. There isn't much of a set, so I can't help but wonder why it took two people to design. A series of slides (multimedia design by Chris Jensen) are presented behind the actors, fading in and out with the Ken Burns effect (slow zooms in and out on the photos).
Audiences hungry for this brand of nostalgia, as evidenced by the thrilled theatergoers around me, will enjoy it. For everyone else, it boils down to a show you forget as soon as you leave. Dietrich and Chevalier deserve better.