Is your idea of a FABULOUS Valentine’s day going to a pub and watching a bunch of semi-professional actors do a musical so unpopular that there’s not even a cast recording available these days? Well, it’s mine, especially when it’s a musical with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ogden Nash. Getting to break in a new fringe theater venue was just a plus; so much the better that it came with several awards from CAMRA and a liberal policy about bringing in your own food on nights when the kitchen was not open. So One Touch of Venus at the Rose and Crown it was for me and my sweetheart, with full tummies, nice drinks, and bonus chocolates for the interval.
As it turns out, the show really delivered what I was hoping for in terms of great songs with witty lyrics, all glued together with a fairly lightweight yet fun (and surreal) plot that was better than many musicals of the time (but sounded like it was straight out of the mouth of Man In Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone): a silly art dealer (James Wolstenholme) gets an ancient statue of Venus delivered to his gallery, and while he’s fussing about, a visiting barber (David Jay Douglas) slips a ring on the statue’s finger, and it (now Kendra McMillan) comes to life – and falls in love with the barber! Shenanigans ensue, including dealing with the barber’s shrewish fiancee and her even more unlikeable mother, with a subplot of “where has the statue gone” that gets rather gangstery.
The songs really made this show for me (even if I thought one or two should have been cut to keep the running time down) – I laughed at the bitter meanness of “Way Out West in Jersey” (I can’t see how a British audience would have got the jokes) and the art scene mockery of “The New Art is the True Art,” but Nash outdid himself with “The Trouble with Women” (“is men,” now how perfect is THAT for Valentine’s day!). And then, well, “Speak Low,” my God, Weill and Nash, as sung by McMillan, was pure genius. I was … in a dream, I suppose, I’d lost all concept of watching a highly improbable show and was just wallowing in musical pleasure (thinking it might be nice to see her do a cabaret evening on her own).
The show did a good job of being inventively staged with its small budget. I loved the Punch and Judy show done for the “Dr. Crippen” ballad (making me think of the “Sweet Violets” ballet), and they handled Venus’s magic powers (making people disappear, bending prison cell bars) with aplomb and inventiveness (nice job Sarah June Mills). And yet … it was all just a bit long and I ran out of steam before they ran out of show. Sometimes in their duets, Venus and Rodney (the barber)’s voices were just not blending well, and some of the dance numbers seemed … skippable. But overall, it was a good evening and a fun Valentine’s day and a show I’d happily see again if it were remounted.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 14th, 2013. It runs through February 23rd.)