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One Touch of Venus

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

Work Details

Duration

Full Evening, 65 minutes music

First Broadway Production

7 October 1943, New York, Imperial Theatre, Elia Kazan, dir., Maurice Abravanel, cond., Agnes de Mille, chor. (567 performances)

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by Mark N. Grant

Act I

Wealthy art connoisseur Whitelaw Savory and his students exalt modern art at his foundation (). 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 , 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 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 (). Lunchtime crowds emerge, and Venus takes part in an extended ballet (). 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 ().

Venus appears in the bus terminal just as Rodney meets Gloria and her mother (); 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 (). Savory suggests that she eliminate her competition.

The scene shifts to the barbershop, where Savory joins Rodney, Taxi, and Stanley in a barbershop quartet (). 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 () 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 , 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 ().

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 ().

In the next scene, Rodney and Venus are relaxing in a hotel suite; Venus praises his amatory je ne sais quoi (). 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 (), 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 (). 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.

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  • 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
    • Non-Singing Roles

      • Mrs. Moats
      • Two Anatolians
      • Rose
      • Zuvetli
      • Dr. Rook
      • Sam
      • Store manager
      • Police lieutenant
      • Dancers
  • Instrumentation

    • 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 Trumpets
    • Trombone
    • Piano
    • Timpani & percussion
    • Strings

Vocal selections
The Richmond Organization/ Hampshire House Publishing Corp.

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