BWW Reviews: ONE TOUCH OF VENUS - A Fantastically Fun Forgotten Show
Everything old is new again, but some classic treasures just sparkle and shine brighter than others. After taking in a performance of Bayou City Concert Musicals' ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, I am surprised that this is its first performance in Houston. The show, which became a starring vehicle for the legendary Mary Martin, originally opened on Broadway on October 7, 1943 ran for 567 performances. Kurt Weill's score is infectious and poppy, and Ogden Nash's lyrics compliment the comedic plot with the right amounts of sap and zing to completely entertain and enthrall. ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is a delightful piece that is truly deserving of Bayou City Concert Musicals' splendid resurrection and concert staging. Houston owes great multitudes of thanks to Paul Hope and Bayou City Concert Musicals for programming this show, giving audiences an opportunity to see something that is old yet new and fresh to us all at the same time.
ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is based on Thomas Anstey Guthrie's novella The Tinted Venus and lightly spoofs the Pygmalion myth. Rodney Hatch, a humble barber, tells Whitelaw Savory, a wealthy art connoisseur and museum proprietor, that his intended's fingers make the newly recovered statue of Venus' fingers look like sausages. To prove his point, he places the ring he plans to propose with on the finger of the Venus, accidently brining the goddess of love to life in 1940s New York City. The romantic farce leads audiences through comedic misunderstandings and changing affections with a score that flits between moments of haunting beauty and 40s dance melodies. While the show itself may be new to Houston audiences, the score does feature a selection of Broadway standards, primarily "I'm A Stranger Here Myself," "West Wind," and "Speak Low."
Founding Artistic Director and Director of the production, Paul Hope, has every right to be full of pride. There is no doubt that Paul Hope is a superbly skilled and expert director. Everything about this production works perfectly. Paul Hope has done a marvelous job assembling a top notch cast, creative team, and orchestra to deliver a pristine and thrilling production of Kurt Weill's ONE TOUCH OF VENUS to Houston audiences. Like Venus does to the men in the show, Paul Hope's direction easily casts a spell over the audience, leaving them fully enchanted and delighted.
Rob Flebbe as Rodney Hatch, the male lead, is a pure joy to watch perform. His tenor voice radiates from the stage and intoxicates the audience. With a mastery of control over his instrument, his vocals are always appropriately powerful yet light. Rob Flebbe fantastically characterizes Rodney as a humble and simple working class guy full of convictions and dreams that is completely relatable, charismatic, and altogether a good guy.
Like her male counterpart, Danica Dawn Johnston as Venus captivates the audience with grace and style. She exudes sensuality and beauty, bewitching the characters and audience with ease. Danica Dawn Johnston's voice, a comfortable mezzo-soprano is full of vivacious life, earning thunderous and lengthy applause after each mesmerizing song performance. Lastly, Danica Dawn Johnston may get to have some of the most fun on stage, beguiling the audience and fellow cast mates alike with witty innuendo that surely made the 1940s audiences blush.
Joe Kirkendall's Whitelaw Savory is brusque and ultimately masculine. He never shows his softer side, and his love for Venus is more attuned to conquest than romance. Joe Kirkendall's sleek and smooth rich baritone voice perfectly mirrors his refined characterization of the rich Whitelaw Savory, charming the audience throughout the entirety of the performance.
As Molly Grant, Whitelaw Savory's secretary, Grace Givens dazzles the audience. Her mezzo-soprano instrument is well used and well received by the audience, also garnering lengthy applause. Grace Givens is endearing and fantastically enthralls every time she is on stage.
Perhaps the evening's funniest moments are delivered by Susan Koozin portraying Mrs. Kramer, the mother to Rodney Hatch's intended. Susan Koozin is an adept and masterful comedienne, with a perfect sense of timing. Delivering uproarious sight gags, such as surprising the audience with graceful high-kicks, she shines in her musical moments; yet, audiences will remember Susan Koozin's performance for how much she elicited numerous guffaws of laughter throughout the production.
There is not a single miscast person in the show, and each actor and actress brings zestful energy and exuberance to the performance. Each member of the highly talented cast is deserving of praise and adoration. The entire company flawlessly delivers the tale and resonates within the heart of the audience, beautifully using their skills and craft to fascinate the audience for the entire production. The standing ovation from the audience on opening night was genuine and each member of the cast helped earn that honest response.
Dominique Royem masterfully conducts the wondrous orchestra. She and her musicians intrigue the audience with grace, poise, and professional perfection. Additionally, Dominique Royem has a stupendous and humorous surprise in the second act for audiences of the production.
Melissa Pritchett has immaculately choreographed the production. The dance numbers, especially the two ballet sequences, are thrilling. The choreography that is played for laughs is wholly justifiable and much appreciated. Melissa Pritchett has deftly utilized her prowess to ensure that each of the dance performances are more than enjoyable, they are stellar.
Regarding costuming, Pat Padilla and James McDaniel have compiled the perfect collection of fashionable 40s attire. More amazingly, the costumes have been borrowed from all over Houston, yet each piece looks like it was made specifically for the actor or actress wearing them.
Bayou City Concert Musical's production of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS is simply fabulous. The work, effort, but most importantly, the heart put into this show distinctly pays off. This classic jewel of a show is a modern musical treasure to behold and witness. For no other reason, it is fun to see what almost 69 years of artistic evolution has done to the genre and to see what idiosyncrasies have stayed the same. Mix in a talented cast, crew, and orchestra and Bayou City Concert Musicals is offering a splendidly enchanting evening of mirthful not-to-be-missed musical theatre.
ONE TOUCH OF VENUS has a very limited run, and must close on Sunday, September 9, 2012. This unfortunately leaves Houston audiences with only four more chances to see this excellent production. Rush down to the Heinen Theatre and enjoy this amazing production of a forgotten gem. For more information and tickets please visit http://bayoucityconcertmusicals.com/ or call (713) 465 - 6484.
Promotional image courtesy of Bayou City Concert Musicals. Photos by Dalton DeHart.
Danica Dawn Johnston as Venus.