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 The Theatreguide.London Review

One Touch of Venus
Sadler's Wells Theatre     Autumn 2005

Kurt Weill's legendary 1943 musical gets a rare revival in this brief visit from Leeds-based Opera North, and the event is exciting enough to warrant musical theatre fans rushing to it, even if the amiable and always enjoyable production doesn't quite live up to ideal expectations.

With book by Broadway stalwart S. J. Perelman and comic poet Ogden Nash, lyrics by Nash and music in Kurt Weill's lush Broadway mode (very different from his earlier German style), the musical is a nice modern fairytale.

A statue of Venus comes alive and sets her sights on an ordinary guy whose life needs some shaking up, before deciding that she prefers Olympus to American suburbia.

The score includes one classic, Speak Low, and several other pleasant numbers, including I'm A Stranger Here Myself, That's Him and The Trouble With Women, along with two ballet sequences (obligatory in musicals of the period, and originally staged by Agnes de Mille).

Known for his comically strained rhymes, Ogden Nash happily ties 'genius' with 'schizophrenious' and has his hero sing that he loves more than a hangnail hurts or a grapefruit squirts.

Tim Albery's direction captures the innocent charm of the period and even of the genre, as he retains the convention of placing some numbers in front of the curtain, to cover set changes.

Will Tuckett's choreography is particularly lovely in the Forty Minutes For Lunch sequence, in which Venus picks boys and girls out of a faceless crowd and pairs them off, though the climactic Venus in Ozone Heights ballet is a bit muddled.

The cast, a mix of theatre people with operatic-quality voices and opera people with strong musical comedy instincts, manage to avoid almost all the pitfalls awaiting this sort of crossover project.

Only Ron Li-Paz, as the art collector drawn to both the statuary and living Venus, sings in that strained way opera people attempt popular music, and his natural acting and comic timing make up for it.

As Venus, Karen Coker looks lovely, songs beautifully - she can belt in the Broadway style as well as croon - and brings everything you could want to the role except the special energy of a star.

The original was a vehicle for Mary Martin, than whom there was no more stellar, and a vehicle whose centre is not a blazing diamond will always seem to lack something.

If I say that Karen Coker gives the performance of a really, really good Broadway understudy, you may have a sense of what's missing while also understanding, I hope, that I mean no real criticism of her.

As the object of Venus's affections, Loren Geeting gets the delicate mix of nice-guy dimness and romantic potential just right, and Christianne Tisdale provides a lot of laughs and helps sustain the period tone as the obligatory wisecracking-but-secretly-in-love-with-the-boss secretary.

One of the special attractions for musical theatre purists will be the fact that, although there is a limited amount of amplification, what you will hear for the most part are actual human voices.

The unfortunate downside to this is that, without electronic manipulation, the chorus's generally terrible enunciation makes some of Ogden Nash's clever lyrics unintelligible.

Is this a perfect One Touch of Venus? No. Is such a thing possible? Probably not, and so there is no reason to let some tiny imperfections keep you from this rare and delightful experience.

 Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  One Touch Of Venus - Sadler's Wells Theatre 2005