Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier, two iconic Continental performers with distinctive singing styles and outsized personalities who were imported to Hollywood by Paramount in the early 1930s, romance each other in Jerry Mayer’s “Dietrich & Chevalier: The Musical.” Placing the words “the musical” within your title doesn’t make your show a musical, exactly; “Dietrich and Chevalier” is more technically a play with songs, although in this case the words “a play” can be taken lightly as well. Robert Cuccioli and Jodi Stevens impersonate the stars, with varying effectiveness, for two hours.
Mr. Mayer is a television writer/producer with a long resume, including a stint as exec producer of the sitcom “The Facts of Life.” His technique is to take fifteen songs associated with the stars and slice short sketches-from-life between them, much like a turkey club sandwich (or perhaps more properly bratwurst with brie). Property has been kicking around for years; it seems to have begun life in 1998 at the Santa Monica Playhouse under the title “Falling in Love Again: The Dietrich/Chevalier Story.”
Producer Edmund Gaynes has brought it into St. Luke’s, on Restaurant Row; it plays a four-a-week sked, sharing the boards with his production of “Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical.” Gaynes is also producer of the forthcoming “Liberace: The Man, The Music and the Memories.” All of which indicates that he sees gold dust in the notion of dressing up current-day actors in the mannerisms of deceased headliners. This certainly played well with the audience at a matinee preview of “Dietrich and Chevalier,” with an average age that appeared to be roughly seventy-eight.
Cuccioli, who as a Broadway unknown in 1997 gave an impressive performance in the title role of Frank Wildhorn’s poky “Jekyll & Hyde,” sports Chevalier’s trademark boater with good-natured flair. Stevens slinks around as directed, but at times one wonders whether she is emulating Marlene Dietrich in “The Blue Angel” or Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles.” She repeatedly refers to Chevalier as “uncontwollably Fwench,” which might well leave some patrons uncontwollably giggling. Donald Corren, who memorably accompanied Judy Kaye in “Souvenir,” doesn’t play the piano here; he plays eight roles, ranging from Thalberg to Von Ribbentrop, with spirited humor.
Physical production, consisting of some flats and an overworked slide projector, is minimal. So is the direction by Pamela Hall, wife of the producer (and the ingenue in Jerry Herman’s 1969 tuner “Dear World”). As for the songs in this self-proclaimed musical, they include many of Maurice and Marlene’s familiar hits. However it is not a good idea, before a Broadway-savvy audience, to use Cole Porter’s 1953 “I Love Paris” as underscoring for a scene taking place in 1942.