It’s a ‘Crazy World’
Anastasia Barzee stars in ‘Victor/Victoria,’ the musical that launches TUTS’s new season.
by Donalevan Maines
What’s in a name? In the Barzee family of Miami, Mary and Bill became lawyers, while their more creatively named sister, Anastasia, became an actress. She stars as a character with two names—both Victor and Victoria—in the trés gay musical farce that launches the new season at Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars.
“It’s an Irish tradition to name children after relatives,” explains Barzee, “so my siblings were named Mary and Bill. I was a bit of a surprise, so my mother decided, ‘To heck with it. I’ll name her what I want.’ And I turned out to be the creative, freaky one.”
Barzee was too young to enjoy the film Victor/Victoria back when it helped make 1982 a landmark year for LGBT content in mainstream movies. “I saw it later and loved it,” Barzee says about the Oscar-winning movie about a woman (Julie Andrews) pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. Barzee especially enjoyed James Garner as a Chicago gangster, King Marchand, who’s smitten with Andrews’s character, then flips out when she’s revealed to be a “man,” Count Victor Grazinski, a gay Polish female impersonator. (But you can’t judge a book by its cover in the clever film directed by Andrews’s husband, the late Blake Edwards. The Tulsa, Oklahoma-born Hollywood hyphenate was honored in 2004 with an Academy Award for career achievements.) “James Garner is so sexy and so wonderful and so confused,” says Barzee. “He thinks, ‘What’s going on?’”
Joey Sarge, who was in the original cast of the 2006 Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone, plays King Marchand in the Houston production, with actors arriving September 4 for what Barzee calls a “fast and furious” rehearsal prior to performances September 16–28 at the Hobby Center.
“It’s silly and fun and we dance, but the underlying message, if you choose to hear it, is that you love who you love and you should be free to love who you love, instead of living in the shadows,” says Barzee.
“There’s no funnier book than Blake Edwards’s, and the score is gorgeous, by Henry Mancini, whose Pink Panther is one of the greatest movie scores of all time.” Mancini won an Oscar for Victor/Victoria and songs that included “Gay Paree,” “Le Jazz Hot!,” “The Shady Dame from Seville,” “You and Me,” and “Crazy World.”
The stage musical boasts additional songs, some written by Frank Wildhorn, including “Paris by Night,” “Living in the Shadows,” and “If I Were a Man.”
“There’s not a woman out there who hasn’t wondered what it feels like to be a man,” says Barzee. “Victoria sings, ‘If I were a man, I could do a lot of things a woman never can/Be free to plot and plan/Free to live my life without permission from a man./Man assumes that the world is tailor-made for him/Which it is./He presumes that the world indulges ev’ry whim/If it’s his.’
“It’s amazingly relevant today. It is so sort of scarily apropos in our world of politics, with women still fighting for equal pay and the right to make our own decisions.”
Barzee is married to producer Andrew Asnes. They have two sons, Henry and Gene. “A lot of people assume we met when he was producing a show I was in. I’m not ruling it out, but I think that would be strange,” she says. “Actually, we met at a reading. I was chatting with a friend who had gone to Dartmouth with my husband. My husband pulled him aside and asked, ‘Who was that?’ The friend said, ‘You two will either fall in love and live happily ever after or you will end up killing each other.’ It’s a little of both.”
Barzee made her Broadway debut as the American wife of Sgt. Chris Scott in the musical Miss Saigon, and she toured with the show through Houston, where she fell in love with the food at Kim Son Restaurant.
She returned to Houston in a national tour of the 1989 Broadway musical City of Angels.
Barzee’s crystalline soprano can be heard on her solo album, The Dimming of the Day, as well as cast recordings of Napoleon, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Sunset Boulevard (she originated the role of script editor Betty Schaefer opposite Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in Los Angeles) and Over the Moon: TheBroadway Lullaby Album.
The latter united Broadway stars and composers in a benefit for breast cancer awareness. In addition, Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, wrote the foreword to a lavishly illustrated book with 17 songs from the album.
Barzee told OutSmart she was undergoing a mammogram in August before heading to Houston. At 25, she explains, she discovered a lump in her breast. “I was an out-of-work actor in Los Angeles, so I went to Planned Parenthood.”
Barzee didn’t have cancer, but the experience laid the foundation for her continued support for Planned Parenthood. “Women need to have somewhere to go,” she explains. “The organization does a lot of great things, such as screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer, which are woman-killers.”
Barzee believes that Victor/Victoria will be a hit with theater fans in Houston’s LGBT community. “The show is a lot of fun and doesn’t get done very often,” she says.
In addition to winning best score at the 1983 Academy Awards, the movie Victor/Victoria was nominated for Best Actress (Andrews), Adapted Screenplay (which Edwards and Hans Hoemburg based on the 1933 German film Viktor und Viktoria), Costume Design, Art Direction/Set Decoration, Supporting Actress (Lesley Ann Warren), and Supporting Actor (Robert Preston).
Nominated for Best Picture was another gender-bending comedy, Tootsie, with Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who poses as a woman (who resembled Houston’s then-mayor Kathy Whitmire) to land a role on a TV soap opera. Tootsie’s Jessica Lange won Best Supporting Actress as a fellow soap star, and John Lithgow was nominated for Best Supporting Actor as transgender Roberta Muldoon opposite the late Robin Williams in The World According to Garp. But these and other 1982 film classics, including The Verdict and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,mainly took a back seat to Gandhi’s sweep of major awards that year.
In France, Victor/Victoria won César Awards for Best Foreign Film and Best Foreign Actress. Italy honored it with David di Donatello Awards for Best Foreign Screenplay and Best Foreign Actress.
As gay Toddy, shameless in street makeup and poufy hair, Preston won Best Supporting Actor from the National Board of Review. One of his signature lines was “There’s nothing more inconvenient than an old queen with a head cold.”
The musical Victor/Victoria played more than 700 performances on Broadway, where everyone except star Julie Andrews was snubbed when nominations were announced for the 1996 Tony Awards. Andrews famously refused her nod, stating, “I have searched my heart, and find that I cannot accept the nomination, when the rest of the company have been so egregiously overlooked.”
Five minutes into that year’s star-studded 50th annual ceremony (where Donna Murphy won for The King and I), the orchestra played “The Sound of Music” and some members of the audience were momentarily fooled by the sight, at center stage, of what looked like the back of Julie Andrews in a costume from Victor/Victoria. The audience laughed and applauded when it turned out to be out host Nathan Lane.
He cracked, “Oh, come on. Ya really thought she was gonna show up? No, that’s as likely as the pope showing up at Madonna’s baby shower.”
Donalevan Maines also writes about Cleo House Jr., director of the play Marcus: or the Secret of Sweet at Texas Southern University, in this issue of OutSmart magazine.