One Touch of Venus [Lyrics by Ogden Nash; Book by S J Perelman and Ogden Nash after The Tinted Venus by F J Anstey]
Whitelaw Savory, an art collector Ron Li-Paz
Molly Grant, his secretary Christianne Tisdale
Taxi Black, a private eye / Dr Rook, a psychiatrist Eric Roberts
Stanley, Taxi Black’s assistant Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Venus, a goddess Karen Coker
Rodney Hatch, a barber Loren Geeting
Gloria Kramer, Rodneys fiancée Jessica Walker
Mrs Kramer, her mother Carole Wilson
Sam Ben Kerslake
Zuvetti, an Anatolian Adrian Clarke
Orchestra of Opera North
Tim Albery director
Will Tuckett choreography
Antony McDonald set design
Emma Ryott costumes
Adam Silverman lighting
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 4 November, 2005
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
“One Touch of Venus” was first performed on Broadway in 1943, conducted by Maurice Abravanel. Running for 567 performances, it made Mary Martin’s name before vanishing after the 1947 film version with Ava Gardner. I have found no trace of a London performance. In any case, English productions of American stage-fare often provoke cringe; only rarely do the English come convincingly close to capturing an authentic American idiom. Hail to this production, then! In Opera North’s “One Touch Of Venus”, Weill crosses the Atlantic – the production is American in spirit, but seen through English eyes, in a beautifully judged transition.
The Opera North Orchestra understands the spirit of Weill’s score but moderated its tone. The result was assured and confident, engaging and tripping – a playing-style that lies within the musicians’ experience and competence. Far better than trying to reproduce loud American brashness, without the necessary full-blooded conviction.
Sets and choreography have a similar slant. The curtain rose upon an outrageously modern wall-painting – its style reminiscent of Gerald Scarfe rather than Pollock or Rothko. In the first reprise of “I’m A Stranger Here, Myself”, four blocks of grey people, moving pointlessly against a skyscraper backdrop, took on the anonymity of figures in a Lowry townscape. The set for the bar scene, however, presented us with Edward Hopper – a painter extremely familiar to an English audience. The setting for the extraordinary Act One finale – gratuitously and inconsequentially involving Dr Crippen’s capture – is a great gash of purple across the backdrop, with two coffins in the foreground, temporary shelters for his victims, one of whom was an exaggeratedly voluptuous brunette. Her flamboyant red and thrusting breasts were pure Schiele or early Kokoschka.
Singing and speaking styles are accommodated, too. Of the leads, Karen Coker (Venus) is American and Loren Geeting (the barber) is British. Together, they found a joint singing style. Their voices melded in the duets; during “Speak Low”, the barber Rodney followed seamlessly on from Venus. Ron Li-Paz is British, but produced an effective American sound, while Christianne Tisdale, an American, sang her spot-lit number “Very, Very, Very” with panache – but in a British style, slightly self-deprecating.
Instead of trying to reproduce accents authentically, other members of the cast knowingly sent them up – easier for newcomers to do confidently and authentically. Thus Jessica Walker and Carole Wilson, both British, played up the Bronx accents of the fiancée and her mother raucously (with Jessica Walker adding an outrageous cackle, louder than any from Barbara Windsor in the early “Carry On” films). Likewise the Anatolian and middle-European accents of Britishers Adrian Clarke and Eric Roberts were crazed.
The star of the evening (apart from the orchestra, doing Weill proud) was Karen Coker. Tall and blonde, elegant and lissom, she was an utterly believable goddess, seductress and mistress (and housewife). Likewise, her voice soared, rang out, pronounced, coaxed, flowed, softened, soothed and cajoled.
Do go and see.