Riding With Raquel

Riding With Raquel Should you ever want a face full of stardust, I suggest you hitch a ride on the well-tailored coattails of Raquel Welch one night when she makes her beeline from the stage door of the Marquis Theatre to her waiting limo. Most of us are spared the withering glare of public adoration, but if you're an ink-stained wretch who's there to interview The Star, you travel in the same insulated bubble.

Should you ever want a face full of stardust, I suggest you hitch a ride on the well-tailored coattails of Raquel Welch one night when she makes her beeline from the stage door of the Marquis Theatre to her waiting limo. Most of us are spared the withering glare of public adoration, but if you're an ink-stained wretch who's there to interview The Star, you travel in the same insulated bubble.

I scurry by the madding crowd and bolt into the back seat of the luxuriously appointed limo. Then I wait. And wait.

Through a glass darkly tinted, I see what the holdup is: Raquel is positively dawdling with her admirers, tending them like a garden‹autographing programs, posing for pictures, waving. It's the way you play Star, and Raquel plays it to the hilt, all too aware that the role comes with a responsibility. She can't leave home, or dressing room, without it.

When the feeding frenzy of fans finally subsides, she slips into the back seat beside moi, and the limo crawls off to an undisclosed supper-interview site.

"Isn't it great?" trills Raquel rhetorically, wholly unrattled by all the commotion just accorded her. "The fans are so nice. The only time there's any kind of problem is when we're smothered and don't feel we can make it through. But they're all real polite, and the officers are always nice."

And is it like this after every show? She smiles. "Yeah, uh-huh, yeah," comes the tentative, almost apologetic, reply. "That's why I dress up nice after the show, because there are so many fans there." When you think about it, this is some swath Raquel has cut on Broadway‹from Woman of the Year to woman/man/ woman of this year. In the former she replaced Lauren Bacall to critical acclaim as "One of the Girls Who's One of the Boys"; now, she has taken that song an extra revolution: In Victor/Victoria she's "One of the Girls Who's One of the Boys Who's One of the Girls."

In a modern world of blurred sexual barriers, it's positively reassuring to find this female icon trying to pass herself off as male. "I think the whole fun of it," she says, "is that you're taking somebody who is the antithesis of a boy and letting her pretend to be a boy‹a gay count, which is a very arch kind of a thing. There's enough leeway in there to fantasize and to suspend disbelief for a while‹because it is a fable."

It's a part only a conspicuous star like Welch can fill, but she'll give you an argument if you call it a star vehicle. "In order to get away with the role and bring people in, you have to have a persona, but I don't think this is a star turn. It is very much an ensemble piece. Quite apart from the star billing and all that‹that's marketing, you know‹the actual role just holds things together. It doesn't have any jokes‹well, two, throughout the evening. Tony Roberts and Tara O'Brien‹that's where the jokes are. Michael Nouri and I are straight men."

Victor/Victoria, she notes, has a contemporary sensibility. "I think it basically captures the spirit of what's going on in the nineties. There's a lot of changing of sexual roles in the American culture. That's the reason it still works‹because it's topical."

Other than Raquel, what the strong ladies of Victor/Victoria and Woman of the Year have in common is that both originated as solid Oscar-nominated performances (from Julie Andrews and Katharine Hepburn). "Maybe because they're based on movies, that's the concept that works best for me. It's hard to find good roles. I think I should stop taking over roles from other people. I think I should get Kander and Ebb to write a whole musical for me."

That's the thing about Stars‹they don't simper, they say what they want.

[Victor/Victoria has announced that it will close July 27.]

-- By Harry Haun