A Vintage TV Version of a Rarely Done Musical
After an initial run of 567 performances in 1943, “One Touch of Venus” more or less faded into semi-obscurity. With a score by Kurt Weill, a book by S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash, and lyrics by Nash, it tells the tale of a statue of the goddess Venus coming to life and falling in love with a barber when he jokingly slips a ring around her finger.
Other than for “Speak low,” I was utterly unfamiliar with this show until dear old VAI added it to its DVD collection of televised Broadway musicals from the 1950s; and it represents the only fairly complete video version of “One Touch of Venus” to date. (The 1948 film with Ava Gardner keeps very few of the original songs, while this 1955 telecast keeps 10 of them plus two ballet sequences—and all in 73 minutes.) I read that bits of dialogue have been updated to 1955, but on the whole, this performance is a faithful abridgement of the original production.
In the role created by Mary Martin, Janet Blair makes a lovely Venus with a singing voice not heard very much, if at all, in her films. George Gaynes as Whitelaw Savory is a wooden actor but not a bad vocalist, while the nerdy barber Rodney Hatch is more than adequately played by Russell Nype.
Others in the cast are two comic figures Taxi Black and Stanley (Mort Marshall and Iggie Wolfington), Hatch’s bad tempered fiancée Gloria (Mildred Trares), and Whitelaw’s faithful secretary Molly (Laurel Shelby). No, none of these names, other than Blair’s, are familiar to me—and I was an ardent TV viewer back then. But these VAI restorations are living history as well as superior entertainment.
Now truth to tell, I was never much of an admirer of Weill’s music, and I don’t think much of his score for this show (“Speak low” excepted). But Nash’s lyrics are clever and often intelligent (this was his only shot at a Broadway musical), and the book he created with Perelman is amusing at best without being believable at any moment.
The picture on this VAI DVD is quite good and a bonus feature shows the original commercials—if that is one’s idea of a good time.
Other musicals in this VAI series are “Kiss Me Kate,” “A Connecticut Yankee,” “Dearest Enemy,” and “Bloomer Girl.” See www.vaimusic.com for a complete list.