Touch of Venus
July 28 - 31, 2005
What a service The American Century Theater performs for the Potomac Region's theater lovers with its "Rescues" series of professional staged readings! This year's service is the chance to get to know the musical by Kurt Weill (Lady in the Dark) with book and lyrics by S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash which originally starred Mary Martin. It is a modern take on the legend of Galatea in which the statue of a goddess of Venus comes to life in New York City in then-present day 1943. It is almost never performed today because it is pretty dated, requires a very large cast by today's economic standards, and relied on two major ballets by Agnes de Mille. The opportunity to see and hear it presented in this manner is to be treasured, and opening night the house was packed. There are only three more performances - Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 1:30 pm.
Storyline: A wealthy New Yorker acquires an ancient statue of the Goddess of Love, Venus. His barber, who has come to give him his morning shave, is about to become engaged and has the ring in his pocket. He notices that the statue's finger is the same size as that of his fiancée and, to prove it, places the ring on the statute's finger. The statue comes to life and falls in love with the barber, but eventually realizes that the life he offers in the new suburban development of Ozone Park would not satisfy her, and she takes the ring off, becoming a statue again.
One review of the show when it opened at Broadway's Imperial Theatre said it had "personality and wit and genuinely high moments of music and dancing." With the exception of "dancing" the same can be said of the staged reading. All of the leading performances are enjoyable with Amy Sheff, Andy Clemence and the team of Carl Randolph and R. Scott Williams standing out in a cast of 31 professionals. Sheff is at her best with the title song and with "Very, Very, Very," while Clemence sets up the entire piece with the "New Art is True Art" opening, leads the lovely "West Wind," and then joins with Randolph, Williams and Dan Herrel for the crowd-pleaser "The Trouble with Women."
Herrel is fine as the barber who sets the complications in motion. The lead role of the statue turned Goddess with all the supernatural powers that implies is played by Joanne Schmoll. She sings the role very nicely and captures a good deal of the flippant insouciance that Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman managed to give the character in their script. However, no one can really be expected to recreate the charm and magic that made Mary Martin such a super star on the live theater stage. Still, Schmoll lets us understand the material in this, Martin's first starring role.
There is no reserved seating for this general admission presentation. Choosing to sit on the left side of the audience is a good idea because Grace Marshall's slide show is projected on a screen to the audience's left. Her presentation makes up for much of the information and feeling that might otherwise have been lost in this staged reading which uses just six stools for furniture and set. She not only provides slides identifying location for the scenes, she throws up song titles, quotes from the stage directions in the script, montages of period-looking photos (some shot recently but made to look appropriate for 1943) and even a few bits of whimsy of her own. Among the art displayed during the song "New Art is True Art" includes one side of a different kind of art - Art Carny. Most impressive, however, is her touching montage of images illustrating the thought process of Venus as she considers what life really would be like if she stayed with the barber and lived the life of suburbia he offered.
Music by Kurt Weill. Lyrics by Ogden Nash.
Book by S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash based on The Tinted Venus by F. J.
Anstey. Directed by Jacqueline Manger with additional direction by Jack
Marshall. Musical direction by Tom Fuller. Power Point presentation conceived
and designed by Grace Marshall. Design: Tom Kennedy (lights) Jean Grogan
and Marge Tischer (wardrobe coordination) Rhonda Hill (stage manager).
Cast: Andrea Abrams, Caroline Jane Angell, Michael Bigley, Kat Brais,
Tara Chiusano, Andy Clemence, Gilly Conklin, Amy Conley, Tom Dillickrath,
Rebecca Dreyfuss, Yvonne Erickson, Lauren Furjanic, Christine Gahagan,
Tina Ghandchilar, Caren Hearne, Dan Herrel, Scott Kenison, Tracy Krulik,
Randy Lindgren, Jason Massey, Dave McLellan, Lynn Audrey Neal, Carl Randolph,
Brian Rodda, Joanne Schmoll, Amy Sheff, Nelson Smith, Jason Strunk, Marge
Tischer, R. Scott Williams. Keyboard: Alvin Smithson.