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One Touch of Venus (1943)

Musical comedy in two acts.
Book by S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash after F. Anstey's The Tinted Venus.
Lyrics by Ogden Nash.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings
Press Clippings
An Appreciation

Photo of Mary Martin

Mary Martin as Venus singing "That's Him" in the Broadway production.

Performance Information

Cast: Singing roles -- Whitelaw Savory (baritone), Molly Grant (mezzo-soprano), Rodney Hatch (tenor), Venus (mezzo-soprano), Taxi Black (tenor buffo), Stanley (baritone), Gloria Kramer (mezzo-soprano), Mrs. Kramer (mezzo-soprano), bus starter, ensemble.
Speaking roles -- Mrs. Moats, two Anatolians, Rose, Zuvetli, Dr. Rook, Sam, store manager, police lieutenant, dancers.
Orchestra: Reed 1 (cl, alto sax), Reed 2 (cl, bass cl, alto sax), Reed 3 (cl, ten. sax, fl, picc) Reed 4 (cl, alto sax, ten. sax, fl, picc); 3 tpt, tbn; piano, timp & perc; strings.
Duration: full evening, 65 minutes music
Published Editions: vocal selections, The Richmond Organization/ Hampshire House Publishing Corp.
Performance Rights and Rentals: GER, AUST, SWIT: MB
Europe, except GER, AUST, SWIT: JW
All other territories: RH
Authorized Translation: Swedish -- Lars Rudolfsson
First Performance: October 7, 1943, New York, Imperial Theatre, Elia Kazan, dir., Maurice Abravanel, cond., Agnes de Mille, chor.

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.

Synopsis

by Mark N. Grant

Act I

Wealthy art connoisseur Whitelaw Savory and his students exalt modern art at his foundation ("New Art is True Art"). But Savory also covets an ancient statue, the Venus of Anatolia. Two goons, Taxi Black and Stanley, arrive from Smyrna with the statue. As Savory rushes out to admire it, his secretary Molly Grant sings "One Touch of Venus," explaining women's power over men.

Barber Rodney Hatch arrives to cut Savory's hair. On a whim, Rodney slips the engagement ring intended for his fiancée, Gloria, onto the finger of the statue. Shazam! The statue comes to life and fixes on Rodney as her liberator and lover. He runs away in terror. Shazam again! She disappears. Savory and the others find that the statue is gone and sound the burglar alarm.

Later that evening Rodney, alone in his apartment, sings the ironic love song "How Much I Love You" to a photo of his fiancée. He is startled when Venus appears, then shocked when she suggests they get in bed together. Gloria telephones, and Rodney agrees to meet her and her mother at the bus station the next day. Rodney's landlady enters and demands to know what's going on. Venus gestures and the landlady falls unconscious.

The next day, in front of Radio City, Venus tries to figure out why Rodney is resisting her and how love has changed in 3,000 years ("I'm a Stranger Here Myself"). Lunchtime crowds emerge, and Venus takes part in an extended ballet ("Forty Minutes for Lunch"). Then she tries on some dresses in a store window. Savory and Molly enter. Savory doesn't realize she is his statue, but she reminds him of an old flame. He sings a torch song for a lost love ("Westwind").

Venus appears in the bus terminal just as Rodney meets Gloria and her mother ("Way Out West in Jersey"); Taxi is also there, shadowing Rodney. Gloria badgers Rodney for the engagement ring; Rodney, in frustration, shouts that he threw it away. Gloria insults Venus and threatens to break the engagement if he doesn't produce the ring in 24 hours.

Shortly thereafter, Taxi brings Gloria's mother to Savory's studio, and her vague accusations convince him that Rodney stole the statue. As Savory vows to get it back, Venus reappears. She's distressed because she fears she has lost her divine sex appeal ("Foolish Heart"). Savory suggests that she eliminate her competition.

The scene shifts to the barbershop, where Savory joins Rodney, Taxi, and Stanley in a barbershop quartet ("The Trouble With Women"). Stanley tricks Rodney into going downstairs while Taxi and Savory search for the statue, but Gloria enters the shop unexpectedly. Savory ties her up as Stanley knocks out Rodney in the basement. The trio still have not found the statue when the doorbell rings, and they flee. Venus enters and unties Gloria, but then makes her disappear when the outraged Gloria accuses Venus of alienating Rodney's affections. Rodney staggers upstairs. She tenderly implores him to seize the moment ("Speak Low") and the two finally embrace.

Later that night Venus and Rodney are among the guests at a party at Savory's foundation. Savory announces that Gloria Kramer is missing and launches into a song about the famous killer "Doctor Crippen," implicitly accusing Rodney of murder. Mrs. Kramer enters with the police. But when Venus confesses she "dissolved" Gloria, the police take both Venus and Rodney to jail.

Act II

Savory and Molly try to figure out how to spring Venus from prison. Suddenly Zuvetli, an Anatolian, appears and threatens to kill Savory if he does not return the statue. Savory fingers Rodney and Zuvetli disappears. Molly pooh-poohs Savory's fears and the "problems" of the rich in general ("Very, Very, Very").

Venus and Rodney baffle the prison psychiatrist during an interview. Zuvetli enters and begs Venus to return, but she refuses. Rodney boasts that he will arrange their escape, and the pair reprise "Speak Low." Then Venus opens the doors with a gesture and they leave. Savory and his crew pursue them ("Catch Hatch").

In the next scene, Rodney and Venus are relaxing in a hotel suite; Venus praises his amatory je ne sais quoi ("That's Him"). Rodney fears they can't go anywhere because the police are still after him for murdering Gloria. Venus reconstitutes Gloria, and she breaks the engagement once and for all.

Rodney describes the delights of Ozone Heights ("Wooden Wedding"), but Venus wonders if she's fit to be a housewife. In a ballet sequence, she pictures suburban life closing in on her; then the mythical creatures of ancient Greece gradually reappear and call on her to return ("Venus in Ozone Heights"). She vanishes.

Meanwhile, Rodney and Savory are captured by the Anatolians. As Zuvetli raises his dagger to kill Venus's defilers, there is a thunderclap and blackout. A statue again, Venus reappears on her pedestal, and the Anatolians are gone. Rodney, bereft, sings one last mournful verse of "Speak Low," when a young woman who looks just like Venus enters. She tells him she is from Ozone Heights, and they exit happily together as the curtain falls.

Song list

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)
Westwind
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)

Recordings

Decca DL 9122 LP reissue: AEI 1136
CD reissue: MCA MCAD 11354
Mary Martin, Kenny Baker, Maurice Abravanel, cond. [excerpts]
Pearl CD GEMM CDS 9189 Mary Martin, Kenny Baker, Maurice Abravanel, cond. [excerpts] (same numbers as MCA recording)
JAY Records CD
CDJAY2 1362
Melissa Errico, Brent Barrett, Ron Raines, John Owen Edwards and James Holmes, cond. (2 CD’s)

 

Press Clippings

"Nectar for the gods, a thing of wit and wisdom, talent, taste and beauty."
--News, 1943

"Weill's music is the loveliest this side of heaven."
--New York World Telegram 1943

"It is a pleasure to attend a new musical comedy that is adult, professional, comic and genuinely musical. It is a long time since we have heard a new and modern score in musical comedy that struck us as something at once popular and unusually fine."
--New York Post, 1943

"The show is ageless . . . . The Weill score is as varied as it is melodic, with waltzes and ballads sharing the stage with a barbershop quartet . . . . The artfulness in unison of music, lyrics and libretto make this musical well worth rediscovering."
--New York Times, 1987

"Weill was the greatest composer ever to work on Broadway. The score is clever and lovely
. . . S.J. Perelman, aided by Ogden Nash, contributed a sweetly sexy book . . . . A Victorian novella here given a dry Manhattan twist."
--New York Post, 1996

"What a rare joy when a 'forgotten masterpiece' proves to be so. And no surprise: its creators were an eccentric dream team of German refugee composer Kurt Weill, Marx Brothers writer S.J. Perelman, and comic poet Ogden Nash . . . . This is a near perfect show . . . most numbers bring the house down. And it is Weill's witty blend of the sweet melody of American popular song with the jazzy strains of Berlin cabaret that finally steals this show."
--The Daily Telegraph, 2004

"For all its richly upholstered show tunes, Weill's sprightly satire on the twin American obsessions with sex and shopping seems provocatively ahead of its time."
--The Guardian, 2004

" . . . it is surely time to acknowledge that his American works represent the peak of Weill's achievement . . . . One Touch of Venus confirms again his mastery of the musical theatre." --The Times, 2004

"A delight. Anyone looking for a sophisticated musical to revive, with a classy script and an equally classy score, need look no further."
--Opera News, 2005

"A musical of genuine sparkle and beauty."
--The Times, 2005

"A delight from beginning to end."
--Mail on Sunday, 2005

"[A] gem of a musical masterpiece . . . crisp, joyful, engaging, and enchanting."
--Houston Chronicle, 2012