Say you were a major Maurice Chevalier fan. Craving a fix, would you (a) rent an armload of his movies (including, of course, ''Gigi") and have yourself a gai little home film fest, or (b) head to the Cutler Majestic to see former Vegas headliner Tony Sandler do a passable impersonation?
There's no denying that, in his one-man show ''Chevalier -- Maurice & Me," Sandler captures the famous entertainer's signature expressions: the suppressed Gallic chuckle, the poutily thrust lower lip, and, for emphasis, an occasional overbite and/or complicitous wink. There's also no denying Chevalier's enduring charm. But does it warrant a two-hour hagiography laced with homilies?
Marna J. Petersen's script alternates between third-person narration and first-person pretend. To hear Sandler-as-narrator tell it, Chevalier, that ''salesman of sunshine and love," had ''a significant impact on his world" -- a claim that throws off the tone of this entire endeavor. Surely, no performer ever got more mileage out of affecting a carefree air. Chevalier's one real-life appearance on the larger world stage -- his post-World War II conviction as a Nazi collaborator, ultimately overturned -- is glossed over here as a mere misunderstanding, a PR snafu. Sure, Chevalier may have spent the war years in occupied Paris regaling the German brass, but really his songs were directed to any humble French ushers who happened to be among the crowd. Right. It would be more respectful just to acknowledge his diehard superficiality and move on.
Sandler has a much lusher voice than Chevalier's reedy lilt and can't resist the temptation to show it off, with the result that playful ballads become portentous statements. The tight pickup quintet assembled for this show has a far better feel for the music-hall genre and really cooks when the tone turns jazzy.
As for the ''& Me" part of the show, Sandler, like Chevalier, is Belgian-born and has had a successful singing career. Why we should take an interest in the autobiographical parallels Sandler interjects is never made clear. And if you're going to embody someone, wouldn't it make sense to try to approximate the hairstyle? Sandler affects the straw boater, but atop a squarish, longish Wayne Newton 'do. In these relatively enlightened days, Chevalier's brand of humor -- heavy on the extramarital high jinks, with a random ''funny" rape thrown in (a ship captain coerces an innocent young thing into his stateroom) -- falls a bit flat, and it didn't help that, on opening night, Sandler sometimes let his impatience with the sparse audience show. He did that ''come on, come on" gesture after getting no reaction to an anecdote in which de Gaulle said, ''Maurice, you and I are equals." Were we missing something?
Chevalier was able to milk his own self-satisfaction for laughs, but this superfluous homage amounts to egotism squared.