One Touch of Venus at 42nd Street Moon

Dave and I saw 42nd Street Moon’s production of One Touch of Venus on Thursday. It’s a charmer. The show is an insubstantial farce but it has a witty and gently ribald book by S.J. Perelman and a terrific score by Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill and it’s strange that it’s so rarely done. I would think it would be perfect for community and semipro theaters.

The cast is good all around, but the standout I thought was Tom Orr as Taxi Black — I’ve only seen him in supporting roles at 42nd Street Moon and I hope I’ll get to see him in a bigger role one of these days. (Dave and I wanted to go see his one-man show a few months ago but our schedules didn’t allow it, dammit.) He’s a terrific comic actor. I thought his brilliant shtick throughout the “Doctor Crippen” number at the end of the first act — mugging and sinister leering and some remarkable moments of pantomime — was maybe the funniest thing in the show, and he was just as good elsewhere.

(I know the number somehow from some recording I haven’t listened to it a long long while and I can’t think what it is — one of the Ben Bagley albums? — but I don’t think I ever noticed before the similarities, in terms of both musical structure and dramatic function, between it and “The Saga of Jenny” from Lady in the Dark. After the show I was humming “Doctor Crippen” and found it very easy to slip into “Jenny” and back again, even in the middle of a stanza.

Who’s Crippen?
Never heard of Crippen,
Lying in a felon’s grave.
Deserved a bed of roses
But history discloses
It was all for Ethel LeNave!

It makes me wonder to what extent the writers and Weill may have been consciously using “Jenny” as a model for the “Crippen” number.)

Nina Josephs is very good as Venus, and one of the highlights for me was her song “That’s Him”. Anil Margsahayam is very funny as Rodney but his singing is a bit weak and in places is made worse where he modifies his vowels too much to get more sound, which is an operatic trick that doesn’t work so well when you’re singing in the audience’s language. I thought many of the songs were taken at a little too brisk a pace, and the ballads in particular would have a lot more weight if allowed to breathe a little more. “That’s Him” was allowed to breathe and it was delicious; “Speak Low” wasn’t and it didn’t make the same effect, even though it’s the big hit song and repeated several times during the show.

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