Carolyn Miller in One Touch of Venus.
Marlene Dietrich famously quit the lead role of One Touch of Venus because it was "too sexy and profane." My hunch, however, is that vocally it was too demanding for the diva's under-developed pipes (the role made her understudy, Mary Martin, a star). The tunes, after all, were by the great Kurt Weill - while the lyrics were by the witty Ogden Nash, who co-authored the book with S. J. Perelman! With a pedigree like that, you knew I had to check out the glimpse of Venus being offered this weekend by the Boston Conservatory (it only runs till Sunday).
I was very glad I did. The show is awfully sexy, if far more urbane than profane, and that comes through in Stacey Stephen's affectionate, rambunctious staging. Not for Stephens the affectations of the postmodern academy; this is straight 40's Broadway, with no conceptual chaser, and while we've all been taught that One Touch of Venus should therefore strike us as a dusty museum piece, instead it seems vibrant and wonderful, and kind of timeless. The show (a fantasy about a statue that comes to life) has its flaws - it rambles and is awkwardly structured (the first half's too long, the second too short) - but then what do you expect from Ogden Nash and S. J. Perelman? This Venus may not be streamlined, but she makes up for it with ribald wit (but then what do you expect from Ogden Nash, etc.) as well as haunting standards like "West Wind," "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," "One Touch of Venus" and especially the smoky "Speak Low."
Plus there's a novelty song about New Jersey, and another about a serial killer (this is Kurt Weill, after all), plus two ballet numbers - and the Boston Conservatory cast is game for the whole thing, and really pulls the whole thing off. Not everyone in this cast is a triple threat - a few are better singers or dancers than they are actors; but several of them are, actually, triple threats, and the whole show is imbued with a refreshing sheen of youthful energy and talent. And down in the pit, the orchestra sounds great - too loud (as is always the case in this theatre), but great. If you're in the mood this weekend for a literate treat written by talented adults, and performed by an eager crew of fresh-faced up-and-comers, trust me - do yourself a favor, and get in touch with Venus.