One Touch of Venus Written by Ogden Nash and S. J. Perelman Music by Kurt Weill, Lyrics by Ogden Nash Directed by Eda Holmes Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld Musical direction by Ryan deSouza Performed by Robin Evan Willis, Kyle Blair, Deborah Hay & Mark Uhre Shaw Festival Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake May 16 to October 10, 2010
Entertain This Thought! Review by Mary Alderson
One Touch of Venus, which just opened at the Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre, should be funny. It was written by Ogden Nash, known for his silly poetry, and S. J. Perelman, a humourist and writer of scripts for the Marx Brothers. Unfortunately, the comedy in this musical, which was first staged in 1943, does not translate for today’s audience. Nor did the cast seem to know what was needed to make it funny. The premise has some promise: It’s a zany notion with potential for humour. A snobby art instructor, who claims to prefer modern art, buys a classical statue of Venus on the black market. When the local barber slips a ring intended for his girlfriend on the statue’s finger, it comes to life. Venus, being the Goddess of Love, decides that she wants the barber for her own, and chases him around town until he succumbs to her beauty. But when the humdrum life of the suburban housewife is presented to Venus, she decides to go back to being a statue. The lack of enjoyment cannot be blamed solely on the script. A major problem at the Royal George is the acoustics. Because it’s not a large theatre, the actors do not wear mics. On opening night, much of the singing was drowned out by the orchestra. When we could hear the soloists, they sounded strained. In addition, it is difficult to hear actors who are speaking when their faces are turned away from the audience. While the music is good, the voices need amplification. Londoner Kyle Blair has always been an audience favourite, and he doesn’t disappoint here. He plays Rodney, the feckless, shy barber very well. Deborah Hay as Molly is excellent as the artist’s business assistant. She nearly steals the show with her comedic timing, and thankfully salvages the laughs. Mark Uhre, who recently had a good performance at London’s Grand in The Last Five Years, is unconvincing as the pretentious shyster-artist. Robin Evan Willis as Venus is not aggressive enough to convince the audience that she is the Goddess of Love. By playing it meek and mild, she misses the opportunity for humour, and some of her lyrics are not persuasive. Unfortunately, Julie Martelle as Gloria, Rodney’s girlfriend, is unintelligible as she screeches her lines. The set is disappointing. An old black and white photograph of the New York skyline in the 1940s forms the backdrop with some of the buildings outlined in silver metal. The set appears wobbly, and parts don’t move as they should. The wall behind the statue of Venus fails to turn around as it’s supposed to, so that the live Venus can step forward. The Shaw’s Harvey has maintained its humour despite coming from the same era as One Touch of Venus. Is it the script or the cast that has failed at being funny? A touch of both.
One Touch of Venus continues at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-On-The-Lake, until October 10. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-511-7429 or check www.shawfest.com
A member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, Mary Alderson reviews shows at area theatres and posts her reviews at www.entertainthisthought.com.