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One Touch of Venus
Errico, Clark, Kaye, Wortham; Barrett, Raines; National Symphony Orchestra, Edwards and Holmes. Texts. CDJAY2 (2)
This long-overdue first complete recording of the score of One Touch of Venus fills a major gap in the Kurt Weill discography. Weill and Ogden Nash's landmark musical comedy has been available in numerous forms since its 1943 Broadway premiere; none of them were complete or did full justice to the work. Its original-cast album featured only ten excerpts and did not include key cast member John Boles; the 1947 film version cut most of the songs, and the 1955 telecast trimmed everything down to fit a seventy-nine-minute running time (see opposite page). This new studio recording, lavishly spread out over two CDs, includes three numbers that were cut during tryouts and boasts an A-list cast of Broadway stars.
Rarely revived, One Touch of Venus has a book by Nash and S. J. Perelman that is rather lumpy, despite its appealing premise of the Goddess of Love being plopped down into 1943 Manhattan. But the score and lyrics simply shine. Nash and Weill turned out to be a terrific team, and their score — full of witty rhymes, risqué double-entendres and swingy tunes — is unforgettable. It's no wonder that this show — which also included choreography by Agnes De Mille, direction by Elia Kazan and a Mainbocher-clad Mary Martin in the title role — ran for 567 performances.
Recorded in New York and London (in a series of sessions that actually stretched over thirteen years), with the National Symphony Orchestra crisply conducted by John Owen Edwards and James Holmes, this version reproduces Weill's original scoring and bears his unmistakable sound. Unlike most Broadway composers of the era, Weill insisted on doing his own orchestrations. Only the Overture (here called the Introduction) and parts of the Entr'acte were touched by other hands. Weill's bouncy American style, which could also reach real depths of poignancy and romantic longing in ballads such as "Speak Low" and "West Wind," perfectly complements Nash's intricate lyrics.
The cast on this recording could hardly be improved. Melissa Errico was an ideal Venus in the Encores concert performances in 1996 at New York's City Center. Nobody will ever be able to recapture the sheer charisma of Mary Martin's voice and delivery, but Errico's pretty, sophisticated sound has its own charm. Brent Barrett's ringing tenor brings some welcome virility to the role of the mousy barber whom Venus inexplicably falls for. As his rival, the wealthy art collector Whitelaw Savory, Ron Raines wields his rich baritone like a sword and has great fun with his "Saga of Jenny"-style Act I closer, "Dr. Crippen."
Tony-winners Victoria Clark and Judy Kaye take two key supporting roles. Clark is wonderfully sly and acidulous as Savory's seen-it-all secretary; she gets to sing the show's title number — which was missing from the original-cast album — and the catchy song is a bit of buried treasure. Kaye unfortunately has little to sing as the overbearing mother of the barber's fiancée, but she makes her strong comic voice heard in the ensembles.
The cut numbers, plus a copiously illustrated booklet, make this package even more appealing to musical-theater buffs. It's been worth the thirteen-year wait.
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