Book by S.J. Perelman & Ogden Nash
Music by Kurt Weill
Lyrics by Ogden Nash
adapted from F. Anstey’s story, The Tinted Venus, and the Pygmalion myth

INFO:

Opened at the Imperial Theatre    October 7, 1943    567 performances
Original Director: Elia Kazan
Original Choreographer: Agnes De Mille
Original Producer: Cheryl Crawford
Original Leads: Venus: Mary Martin    Rodney: Kenny Baker    Savory: John Boles
Cast Size: Male: 10    Female: 8    Ensemble: as many as possible    Total Cast Size: 18 plus ensemble, a large cast.
Orchestra: 20, Weill’s original orchestration.
Published Script: Chilton
Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library
Recordings: The originals are okay, but tinny and hard to listen to. A studio recording of the full score was done recently, starring Melissa Errico, from Jay Records – it is sensational.
Film: A poor film with the gorgeous Ava Gardner in the title role, but most of the music missing.
Other shows by the authors: Weill: The Threepenny Opera, The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny, Happy End; Berlin To Broadway With Kurt Weill, Johnny Johnson, Knickerbocker Holiday, Lady In The Dark, Street Scene, Love Life, Lost In The Stars

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a sharp, clever romantic fantasy with some of the most wonderful show tunes ever written. It also needs a trim, a bit of editing, generally in the book.  It’s a large show, and requires a big stage and a reasonable-sized company to do. And it is definitely a “star vehicle.” Venus makes this show, and without the right actress to play it, this is not a good call.

This could be a really interesting show for Colleges, Universities, Dinner Theaters, Stock companies, and the adventurous regional house. I think it’s Broadway life may be past it. But much of the score is absolutely priceless, as you can hear in the recently released phenomenal recording from Jay Records, starring Melissa Errico, which shows us for the first time the complete score and Weill’s astonishing orchestrations.  No “musical comedy” ever sounded this rich and vital and melodic, unless it was penned by Weill.

Be Warned:

This is a pretty adult show. Sex figures into the proceedings prominently, though we never see anything, of course. After all, it is about the Goddess of Love. If your audience or performers find the subject unbearable, do another show.

If you haven’t a fantastic Venus, a mature and gorgeous woman who sings and moves and acts like, well, a Goddess, do another show. There should not be a straight man in the audience who does not want to trade places with the mortal Venus falls for!

Weill’s orchestrations are not like anyone else’s. This show would be best performed with a decent orchestra playing the score. But it may well work with a reduced orchestration. Be worth a look.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: The gallery of the Whitelaw Savory Foundation of Modern Art. A spring afternoon. The dynamic, egotistical Savory himself teaches a group of students his own philosophy of art, “New Art Is True Art”. His students claim to understand, but he feels his theories cannot be understood. (He’s somewhat mad.) His snappy young secretary, Molly, enters to speak with him urgently. A statue he sent for has arrived. He speaks of the beautiful statue of Venus, and it reminds him, he says, of “the girl that got away.” There’s a crash offstage, and Savory hurries to his precious statue. Molly warns the students to ignore his hogwash about art. And she points out that what a girl really needs is “One Touch Of Venus”, that unusual ability to charm men. She departs with the students (all girls).

The statue is brought in. The truckmen who haul the statue in are amused by the modern art surrounding them, especially Picasso nudes. Savory stares at the statue and declares “she’s come back to me forever.” Molly can see she’s a third wheel and departs. That’s when Rodney Hatch enters, diffident, undistinguished, likeable. He’s there to give Savory a shave. Rodney admires the statue, but doesn’t appreciate its greatness as Savory does. Savory indignantly demands to know where one would find such a woman today, and Rodney claims to be engaged to a much more beautiful woman. He’s even carrying an engagement ring, and brags about his girl Gloria’s delicate fingers, compared to the statue’s.

Savory departs momentarily to talk to Molly. Rodney eyes the statue, and then places the ring on its hand. Suddenly a wind fills the room, and there’s a roll of thunder. The lights fail and rise – and the statue, now alive, stares at Rodney. She does not understand what he’s done until she sees the ring on her hand. She was told this would make her a woman again, after 3,000 years as a statue. And that makes him her lover. He bolts for the door. Furious, she raises her arm, there’s lightning and thunder, and a blackout. Savory enters to find his beloved statue is gone.

Rodney’s small, cheap room. He’s trying to buy Gloria a new ring over the phone, but can’t afford it. He explains to the jeweler that a statue stole his ring, but of course, the man thinks he’s mad. He looks at Gloria’s picture, and tells it “How Much I Love You”. (A lot.) The lights dim, roses appear, and so does Venus. He’s horrified she’s found him, and demands she wear something other than “that nightgown”. (She’s in a diaphanous toga of sorts.) Venus announces that she has come to stay with Rodney. She sees Gloria’s picture, and is nonplussed. She lets Hatch know she is his bride, now. She comes on to him, making him a nervous wreck, when the phone rings. Venus has no idea what a phone is, of course. It’s Gloria. Venus thinks there’s someone inside the phone. Gloria wants to know who’s there with Rodney. He promises to meet her tomorrow afternoon, ring in hand. He hangs up as his landlord steps in, sure she heard a woman’s voice and suspicious. Venus raises her arm and the woman is petrified. She is Rodney’s destiny.

Singing to the audience, she asks for guidance, attempting to understand modern love and lovers, since, as she says, “I’m A Stranger Here, Myself”.

In the arcade at the N.B.C. Building in Radio City. Workers flee the building for lunch. During the “Forty Minutes For Lunch Ballet”, Venus causes a girl and a French sailor to fall in love. Venus sees a dress in a store window, dissolves the window and starts putting on the dress. There is general cries for police, when Molly and Savory walk by and see Venus. He stares at Venus, and tells her she looks just like a girl he thought he’d never see again. She points out that being in love with a memory is useless. He longs to get her alone, and promises to do anything she wishes. She lets him know she’ll find him when she needs to. Alone, Savory sings of his lost love returned bu the “West Wind”.

The bus station. There, the man who brought Savory the Venus state, named Taxi Black (?!), speaks with Rodney, there to meet Gloria. But Venus is there, too, waiting for Rodney. He doesn’t recognize her at first with her clothes on. He likes her better this way, which Venus finds a refreshing change from what most men want. Venus is there to wait with Rodney, and to make sure he lets Gloria know she’s done with him. The bus arrives, he asks Venus to give him five minutes with his virginal girlfriend. She figures if they’ve been together five years and haven’t done anything, there isn’t much of a risk now. Gloria arrives with her mother, Mrs. Kramer, and immediately they are both complaining about how late he is, how he didn’t help with the bags. A guy named Sam has been helping them, in his oily way, and Gloria goes on and on about what a gentleman Sam is.

Mrs. Kramer feels that “Way Out West In Jersey”, anywhere across the Hudson, is primitive. (Rodney and Gloria join in the number, the weakest in the show, and one that makes almost no sense at all. It seems like an excuse for Nash to write clever rhymes, that’s about it. I’d cut it.) Rodney goes to get a cab, and Taxi Black (?!) approaches Mrs. Kramer. He wishes to tell her something, but stops when Rodney returns, instead picking up bags to carry out for them. Rodney lets Gloria know how much he missed her, but she wants to know who the woman was in his room. He claims it was the landlady. And Gloria wants her ring now.

Venus sits next to Gloria, listening in. Rodney tries to explain where the ring went, but of course Gloria doesn’t believe him at all. Venus supports Rodney during the ensuing argument. Gloria asks if Rodney knows her, and as he’s explained the whole statue coming to life thing, he shouts this is her. Gloria gives him 24 hours to get her a ring or else it’s off, which Venus is fine with, and for the moment, so is Rodney. Venus agrees with everything he says, and he gets angry again and lets her know that no woman will tell him what to do. He leaves, and she promises to make him eat those words.

The roof outside the art foundation. Art class is in session. Savory is in a foul mood, and Molly advises him to grab one of his students and have at it. Taxi runs on, and lets Savory know he’s found “the statue,” and its with the barber, Rodney. Mrs. Kramer is with Taxi, bags in her hand. She lets Savory know that she’s suspected Rodney of all sorts of things, including being a radical. He sends Taxi with Mrs. Kramer to settle her in. Molly wants to know of Savory is planning a break-in of Rodney’s Barbershop. Then, Venus walks in. She asks for his help, and explains that her “Foolish Heart” won’t let her move past Rodney. Savory suggests that Venus eliminate her rival, Gloria.

Rodney’s barbershop. The room fills up with Savory and his denizens, and Savory sits down to have a shave. Taxi, Savory, Stanley (a cohort) and Rodney sing “The Trouble With Women”, which is, of course, men. Distracted, Rodney does not see Taxi break his washbasin purposefully. Rodney heads into the basement to fix things, and that frees Savory and Taxi to look for the statue. But Gloria enters, looking for Rodney. Savory approaches her like he’s some sort of mob boss, and advises her to work with him to find the statue. She screams, and he and Taxi tie her up. In the meantime, the “statue” is clearly nowhere in the building. And Stanley slugged Rodney to shut him up. Taxi panics, they need to leave. Venus enters to find Gloria tied up. Gloria threatens Venus, who has ruined her lie with Rodney, and Venus starts getting more than annoyed. She sends Gloria off to a place with a lot of ice, with the wave of an arm.

Holding his head, Rodney stumbles in from the basement. She holds him, and he discovers that he, um, likes that. He says he’s never felt anything like this before, and she responds that it’s been a long time since anyone has. She seduces him, singing “Speak Low”. (One of the most beautiful songs ever written.) But in Savory’s coat, Rodney finds a notice accusing him of stealing the statue. They kiss, and decide to face Savory together.

The roof garden again. Midnight. The students dance, Savory waits with Molly, and at last Venus and Rodney arrive. Venus thinks it’s a charming party they’ve been invited to., Rodney tries to bring up the statue, but Savory is all smiles and insists they have a drink first. Savory gathers everyone around, and tells the story of famed murderer “Doctor Crippen”. But as he starts, he lets Rodney know that Gloria is missing, and the police think it’s foul play. He sings the song, about the man who gruesomely murdered the woman he loved. Mrs. Kramer sees a compact in Venus hand, and recognizes it as her daughters. (In fact, it was left behind when Gloria vanished.) Rodney is arrested for murder. Venus wants to know where they are taking Rodney, and Savory informs her he’s going to a little room where no one will bother him. She expects to go with him, as she informs Savory that she dissolved Gloria, and the police decide she’s going in, too. Savory says “over my dead body,” and Venus considers it. She’s arrested.

ACT TWO: Savory’s elaborate bedroom. He’s asleep with an ice pack on his head, as Molly straightens the room. He’s wakened by a gong in the room, struck by the cleaning girl, and has a hangover. He discovers that his lawyers bailed Venus out, but she locked herself in her cell and refused to leave. Savory’s breakfast arrives, and Molly leaves. But the man carrying the tray pulls a knife and suddenly holds it at Savory’s throat. His name is Zuvetli (?!), and he is from a sacred order that worships Venus. He has profaned the Goddess, and the penalty is death. Either the statue is returned to them by the time the moon wanes, or he will die. Savory tells the man that Rodney has the statue, and that he’s currently in jail. The man suddenly and politely takes his leave. Molly joins Savory, and he complains about what is happening in his life. She points out that he is “Very Very, Very” rich, and has no troubles.

In two cells, Venus reaches for Rodney. Various policemen and a prison psychiatrist, observe. Dr. Rook questions Rodney. He’s heard Rodney’s tale, and is convinced Rodney is cwazy. Rook then questions Venus. He asks for her age, and she points out that Homer says one thing, and Virgil, another. (Homer – the first Greek poet and story-teller, Virgil – the great Roman poet.) Rook wants to know how to contact Homer and Virgil. Molly enters and asks for five minutes with Venus. She wants to know if Venus is attracted to Savory, and she sort of it, but she loves Rodney because he’s an ordinary man – something she’s never had before. Molly has figured out the truth, that this is the actual Goddess of love, Venus. The two women take a liking to each other.

Zuvetli arrives to worship his Goddess, and beg her to return to her people. She’s in love with Rodney and will not, and Zuvetli threatens to destroy Rodney for profaning her. He threatens him right back and the man leaves. Venus tells Rodney they want to take her away from him, and he vows to fight to keep her. They sing of love separated by jail bars. (“Speak Low reprise”) Thrilled, Venus makes a gesture and the cells swing open. They go. Savory, Molly and the world chase after them, to “Catch Hatch”.

In a deluxe hotel room, Venus (in negligee) watches Rodney dress. They kiss, and it is magical. She confesses that the ring that brought them together had no power to make her love him. She sends him to get a nicer tie and, alone, sings about how she could pick him out of the millions of men in the world, because “That’s Him”. (A great show tune.) He returns, upset. He points out they can’t leave the room, the police are after him. Since that’s what’s worrying him, with a gesture, she returns Gloria to life and this room they’re in, babbling to the air about her ring. As Gloria snaps out of it, she accuses Rodney of having made love to…an actress! (The ultimate low blow.) She stalks out, but alive and well.

Rodney is afraid to lose Venus. She promises he will never be alone again. He plans a “Wooden Wedding”, an image of a perfect Middle America romance, with a house in Ozone Heights. But this troubles Venus, she’s not that sort of woman. She imagines such a pedestrian life (“Venus In Ozone Heights”) and it terrifies her. And she realizes she must return to her people.

The main Gallery of the Foundation, and Zuvetli has Savory ties up, and is ready to kill him. Two other religious henchmen drag Rodney in, but he also does not know where Venus is. They are about to kill both men when there’s a clap of thunder, the lights black out – and when they rise, the statue has returned to its pedestal and Venus’ followers have vanished.

Savory looks at the statue, it’s a masterpiece, he says. But it does not do her justice. Rodney only knows that she never even said good-bye. Savory points out they are both lucky to have known her at all. Molly enters and is surprised to see the statue, even a bit disappointed – she liked the Goddess better. Savory is now gentle, even friendly with Rodney, who asks for a moment alone with the statue. He sings “Speak Low” to the unresponsive stone. And a girl enters who could be Venus’ country cousin (same actress., of course). She’s there to register for an art course. She and Rodney start to talk, and she lets him know she lives in Ozone Heights, wouldn’t live anywhere else. They walk off together. Somehow, Venus has kept her word.

THE SONGS:

“New Art Is True Art”, “One Touch Of Venus”, “How Much I Love You”, “I’m A Stranger Here Myself”, “Forty Minutes For Lunch Ballet”, “West Wind”, “Way Out West In Jersey”, “Foolish Heart”, “The Trouble With Women”, “Speak Low”, “Dr. Crippen”, “Very, Very, Very”, “Catch Hatch”, “That’s Him”, “Wooden Wedding”, “Venus In Ozone Heights Ballet”

Hits include “I’m A Stranger Here Myself”, “Speak Low”, “That’s Him”, but it’s all pretty glorious.

MY OPINIONS:

This is my opinion, and you may choose to skip it or ignore it. Of course, you don’t know which Greek Gods I may be in with, so over to you…

Kurt Weill is my favorite musical theater composer, and this was his biggest hit written for Broadway, while he was alive.  It has a fantastic score. I heard the score in its entirety for the first time, in Jay Record’s release, and had chills over and over.

The script has lots of clever dialogue, lots of laugh lines and moments, and some of them are very funny indeed. Venus can be very acerbic. It is a pretty standard Musical Comedy so far as construction goes, nothing special, but it is fun.

You’ll need to work the script to make everything make total sense. I do think the show could benefit from some careful cuts.  But this show has at its core a love story based on a very clever fantasy character and concept.  This will serve the piece well today, it will work as escapism, and as romance, as well as fish-out-of-water comedy.  This is a clever show by talented and clever writers, and is more worthy of production than many shows written and produced today.

That said, the Director and Choreographer should be old hands at Musical Comedy, and it would help if they understand the form as it existed in the early 1940s.  One Touch of Venus can be done as a nostalgia piece, but as there aren’t many people alive from that period now, it really shouldn’t be.  Nor does it need to be.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

Weill’s background was modern opera and classical, with a marked ability for atonal music. It is remarkable that he made the transition in American Musical Theater, and wrote hit songs, and is indicative of his extraordinary ability.  And folks, after hearing the full score with Weill’s crazy beautiful orchestration, I for one would be disappointed to hear it in a lesser musical setting.

Venus – Mezzo-Soprano with a beautiful mid range and some high notes. Must sing very well, with a romantic quality.

Rodney – Tenor, the common man with a common touch vocally, but sweet. Should harmonize well.

Savory – Baritone, good energy, sophisticated voice.

Molly – Mezzo-soprano with a good belt, edgy voice.

Gloria – Mezzo-soprano, young woman’s voice.

Mrs. Kramer – Mezzo-soprano, mature voice.

Taxi Black – Tenor Buffo, must harmonize well.

Stanley – Baritone, must harmonize well.

Ensemble – Must sing and dance well, and play various smaller roles. Well-trained voices preferred.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This show was authored shortly after Oklahoma. That show created a craze for ballet mixed with modern dance, and integrated into the story-telling and character development. That show was originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille, and so was this one. I’m sure you get the idea. A choreographer for this show is going to be busy with the pieces that require dance. These are likely to include “New Art Is True Art”,“Forty Minutes For Lunch Ballet”, “Way Out West In Jersey”, “The Trouble With Women”, “Dr. Crippen”, “Catch Hatch”, and “Venus In Ozone Heights Ballet”. Generally, your dance is going to happen during the two ballets.

“New Art” sets up Savory, his wealth, power, his personality. It can be overly and even comically precise, but you can’t put a ton of movement here, as it’s a class being taught. The lyric, a bit too clever for its own good here, needs to be executed well and easily heard.

“Forty Minutes” is a large dance piece with a romance built in, and a demonstration of Venus’ power, perhaps the most important thing that needs to happen in this number. The audience must clearly see a contract between a God, and the common run of humanity. The people hurrying out for lunch are everyday people, and at the start, there is no love in their life, just work…no passion, just life. By the end of this piece, perhaps all their lives are changed and opened up. Romance reigns, and joy walks at its side. This should feel contagious, and magical. We should see the entire demeanor move from rush and business to sweetness and love.

“Way Out west” is, um, not a very smart number. I actually don’t understand why it’s in the show, or what it does to help communicate the story, and I recommend you cut it. If it’s in the show, it clearly begs for a yee-haw country approach, which, um, makes no sense for these characters at all. Cut it, please cut it.

“The Trouble With Women” is essentially a barbershop quartet number, and should lampoon just a bit the traditional moves of such quartets. The four men are momentarily united, at least in their view of the fairer sex. Keep it simple, allow the actors to do their singing.

“Dr. Crippen” is a solo, but perhaps the rest of the cast can react in a choreographed manner. This is basically the end of Act I, it needs more energy than a straight solo can provide. The tale is “ghastly”, which gives the ensemble something to work with.

“Catch Hatch” is an action piece, and every “group” has its own public enemy. This is a kind of a train wreck of forces, and could be played physically a bit like one. It’s pretty old school, almost like comic opera, but with fantastic, tremendously alive counterpoint expression. The music is detailed and yet bombastic, only Weill could have written it, and movement should not overwhelm it – it should compliment it. Movement that is somewhat stylized for operetta and over the top might work here. I’d have some fun at the number’s expense.

“Venus In Ozone Heights” is the pivotal moment in Act II, when Venus realizes she can never fit in to Rodney’s life. It is sort of the inverse of the Act I ballet. Where we see her as powerful. Now, the crowd, the common man is all-powerful, and she is a fish out of water, ineffective and small. And she hates it. It is enough to drive her to return to her form as a statue. In the end, Venus cannot live in Ozone Heights, it can’t be done.

The two ballets will need real dance, and you’ll need some real dancers in the ensemble to pull it off.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Venus – The Goddess of Love, and not a day over 3,500 years old. Do I need to describe her to you? Use your imagination. The actress must be loveable, imposing, and have great comic timing. She must move beautifully, dance well enough. We must feel for her, even though she’s a Goddess, so some vulnerability would be a good thing. Cast for type, voice, acting, and movement. This role needs a star, with great charisma and appeal.

Rodney – A barber, an everyday guy, in his 20s or even his 30s. Common, a bit crude, not terribly bright and easily overwhelmed. But he has a heart, and it has depth. When he falls, he falls hard and the audience must root for him. He can’t be unappealing, either, we must understand that there’s something about him that Venus is drawn to, and not just his common goodness. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement but not too much.

Savory – Late 30s, imposing, charismatic, “an artist.” Dynamic, egotistical, and dogmatic, he wants what he wants and he usually gets it. Not above foul play, not at all. Somehow, at the end, we must like the guy in spite of everything. After all, he was in love, too. Cast for acting, type, voice.

Molly – Late 20s, knowing, uninhibited, attractive in a cynical and disillusioned way. But she has heart enough and brains enough to figure out who Venus really is and to root for her. Cast for acting, voice, type, movement.

Gloria – Young, aggressive, attractive in a tasteless way. She just misses being chic, and is a touch over dressed. Ultimately demanding, shrewish, unlikeable, the audience must accept and be okay with her being pretty foully rejected by the man who said he’d marry her. Cast for acting, type, voice.

Mrs. Kramer – In her 50s or so. Large, noisy, vindictive, self-important. Very unlikeable. Cast for type, acting, voice.

Taxi Black – A working stiff, in his 30s-50s, a bit of an adventurer, not above some criminal activity but, in a pinch. A coward. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement.

Stanley – A thug in Savory’s employ. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement.

Ensemble – Police, a psychiatrist, middle America, Savory’s female students, they play many roles. All musty dance, and they should sing well enough.

SETS:

A unit set isn’t likely to work well enough for this show. Neither will fully literal sets, there are just too many locations. I think you should plan on partial sets, but they should at least “feel” real, so that Venus, a fantasy figure, steps into a “real” world where she does not belong.

The Main Gallery can be played, perhaps, on the Apron and “in one”, in front of the main drape on a proscenium stage. You’ll be returning to this set at the end of the show, it bookends to proceedings. It needs to have enough room to bring the statue on. (The statue is a unique problem. It probably needs to be a painted cut-out so it can be moved off in a blackout lasting seconds, and replaced by the actress playing Venus.) It could also be played as a three-dimensional (or not) drop half way into the stage.

Then lift that drop (or open the main drape) to reveal Rodney’s small bedroom, not too far back of that set, with a bed and dresser. That can be bare walls, cracked plaster, nothing magical at all. It should not be set too deep, it’s a small room.

Lift that drop, roll off the bed and dresser, for Radio City Plaza and the first ballet. You want a fairly open stage, you’ll need the room. And get a good idea of what this plaza really looks like before doing any design work.

The statue and fountain are key to designing this famous setting. And the fountain should work. It would be fun to see people newly in love splashing around, even swimming blissfully as if they were in an Esther Williams film, but that may not work, of course.

The next set is a couple of shops, basically, and it could be a part of the Plaza set. You need a display window with clothes behind it, and the “glass” has to vanish when Venus wishes it to. (Perhaps there is no glass in the first place? At the least it should not be real glass.)

Lower a flat midway downstage in front of all this fur the bus station, perhaps with an arch built in at the “back” for people to enter and exit through.

Lift the bus station to reveal a new set behind it, the roof garden, changed over during the last scene. This can be done with some fancy strung paper lanterns, a few potted plants (large), and a few statues, that can be rolled on and off. (If the Venus statue is painted, these should be as well. Stay consistent.)

You can get clever and move aside some plants to reveal Rodney’s barbershop (behind the garden, toward the back of the stage). Drop the lights on the rest of the stage. It’s a small room with a barber chair and a sink, and both must work, and be period-appropriate. Then to end the act, close the bushes in front of the barbershop again, and we’re at the rooftop garden.

Act II, Savory’s large, ornate bedroom. Place this at the back of the stage, a series of walls, flats or three-dimensional cut-aways, a huge bed appropriate to the character, a dresser, and these can be rolled on.

Drop a jail wall (cold bricks) mid-stage, with some bars built in so we can see our hero and Goddess behind bars. Play this scene downstage.

Pull this set up to reveal a new set behind it, a nice hotel sitting room with an attached bedroom, a suite. It’s important the audience see the hint of a disheveled bed in that bedroom. A man has slept with a Goddess, and both are purring.

Close the main drape to return us to the apron and the main gallery.

These are all suggestions assuming you have flies, wings, a large stage, a main drape. This show won’t yield to a unit set design easily. Of course, any show can be done on a unit set, but somehow these sets need to feel separate and unique. The barbershop chair and sink need to work – and that’s hard to roll on in front of the audience as part of a unit set design. Radio City Plaza is a specific and known location – though the ballet could take place anywhere in Manhattan, really. I believe this show needs the whole multi-set approach to work well.

If you go unit set, lower the cast size as much as possible. The ballets should be done with 4-6 actor/dancers each, that’s it, and a story carefully developed for each dance to make it seem like what we see is indicative of NYC. You’ll be rolling or carrying on faux statues, garden plants or “trees”, the barber chair and sink, etc. These things will need to be light, to enter and exit effortlessly, and all scene changes would need to be choreographed. It could work, but I don’t believe as well.

COSTUMES:

Venus must be gowned to display all her attributes, without giving away too much. Such costumes usually need to be designed and built specifically for the actress.

Savory is a fancy, high-end artist, and dresses pretentiously. His suits are a bit flashy, kerchief in pocket, always perfect but just a touch tasteless.

Rodney must be the antithesis of both Venus and Savory, a very plain and plainly-dressed man. In fact, the audience might believe that Savory should get the Goddess, they are more alike.

Molly should be sharply dressed, impressively showing her curves, but professional.

Make certain everyone agrees on the exact year or period the production will be taking place in. These will impact how you dress policemen, businesspeople on a short lunch, commoners living in Ozone Heights, etc.

This is a big job!

PROPS:

Gloria’s compact. Gloria and her mother’s bags. Rodney’s barber scissors and towel. The works of art on display, imitations of great masterpieces (or prints), framed. Statues. The artwork may represent your biggest assignment, the est of it shouldn’t be too difficult.

LIGHTING:

A big job, again. You’re mixing a strong, central fantasy element into realistic sets and situations (more or less). Venus should shine, glow, radiate power and sensuality, and the lighting is going to need to help set her apart. And this starts with how you light her statue

Lighting will help us believe we’re in an art gallery. Pin spot individual art works, keep the rest of the lighting dispersed. Then, when the statue comes, treat it also like a work of art, but give it something extra. Mold its features with light and shadow so it almost looks alive.

Distinguish exterior scenes (the two ballets, the roof garden of the foundation) from interior scenes. Light the jail cells specifically dull and dim – except Venus is in one of them.

Also, there are lightning/thunder effects followed by blackouts. These can really be cheesy if not effectively done.

There’s likely to be a fair number of cues. A computer board would help, especially for the ballets.

MAKE-UP:

Unobtrusive, simple. Venus must be GORGEOUS.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Lighting Designer, Costume Designer, Venus, Savory, Rodney

MY THOUGHTS:

This is a show crying out for rediscovery. It is a little creaky, but it doesn’t need to be presented that way. The book has plenty of smart zingers and moments to carry itself, and that is usually where older shows die. We still sing their songs, but their books render them unproducible. The songs are almost all stunning, though the lyrics are generally not a strong as the music.

This is a fine and fun and entertaining musical with an appealing fantasy element at its core. It deserves productions. It will work today if handled intelligently.