Yes, the famous pair of egomaniacal entertainers had a tryst in Hollywood when they were married to others and were horny and bored and had adjoining dressing rooms at Paramount and remained steadfast friends throughout their lives, even to the extent that Marlene came to the defense of Maurice when he was accused of collaborating with the Nazis during WWII. But I’m getting far ahead of myself.
Billed as a musical, Dietrich & Chevalier is much more. Yes, it has many of the famous songs that Marlene and Maurice sang but is the backdrop of WWII, the Nazis and their inclusion or reluctance to be included in aiding the Jews that is the main force behind the book by Jerry Mayer. Which causes some problems. The book and the songs seem to be at odds with one another.
Back and forth we travel. From the Casino de Paris to Hollywood to Germany from 1932 to 1945. It’s a lot of material to be covered. And so we get a series of short expositional scenes in between the famous lighthearted songs. This needs to be addressed as it doesn’t quite work despite the fascinating relationship between the two stars and their “love” story.
The production itself is stylish with excellent period costumes by Karen Flood. The multi media work by Chris Jensen cluing us in to where we are is quick and efficient. The furniture changes in silhouette distract. The musical staging by Gene Castle doesn’t. The overall unit set by Scott Heineman and Josh Iacovelli is quite serviceable. Does all this seem cold? Yes, it is.
I couldn’t get involved. Despite the valiant efforts of the three person cast. Robert Cuccioli has the straw boater, the bow tie, the smile and sometimes the magnetic charm of Chevalier. And he can act the serious scenes. Jodi Stevens has the elegance, the hairdo, the cheekbones but falls short of bringing Marlene to life. She is best when she sings the German version of “Falling In Love Again”. Donald Corren, playing eight different roles, all but steals the show. He is marvelous. I believed him throughout. Cuccioli and Stevens are perhaps being told by director Pamela Hall to impersonate rather that inhabit their roles. I would be better if they relaxed more and played the emotion rather that imitate the personality.
But you will get to hear such great hits as “Mimi” “Lili Marlene” “Isn’t It Romantic?” “Valentine” and “You’re The Cream In My Coffee” – a supposedly naughty ditty that got Marlene a job – all played to perfection by Musical Director Ken Lundie.
Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich were above all entertainers, not politicians. But that part of their lives is most interesting and perhaps underdeveloped here. Or not stressed enough. The balance is off. A little more meat and less music might have been preferable.
Photo: Carol Rosegg