Forgotten Musicals Friday: ONE TOUCH OF VENUS

Mary Martin in One Touch of Venus
Mary Martin in One Touch of Venus

This Friday I bring to you the forgotten musical; One Touch of Venus. When I stumbled on this little gem (looking for some comedic golden-age songs that I could sing), I was thoroughly entertained and amused while listening to the score and reading the libretto. I have definitely received a Touch of Venus and hope that you can too!

Very loosely based off of the myth of Pygmalion, One Touch of Venus, a romantic comedy of errors, was quite successful on Broadway with a run of 567 performances. Unfortunately for this musical debuting in 1943, it was largely overshadowed by a game-changing musical that also hit Broadway that year- Oklahoma!

With a script by Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman, One Touch of Venus tells the story of a fairly normal barber named Rodney Hatch who is engaged to his domineering and cruel fiancé, Gloria. Rodney, visiting a local art museum, is overcome by the beauty of a statue of Venus that is on display. He slips his engagement ring onto the finger of the Venus statue and from that point, his life turns upside down. The statue of Venus turns into a real woman who immediately falls in love with Rodney. Rodney, being engaged, tries to lose Venus, but she does not give up without a fight. What follows is a series of comical events as Rodney ditches his fiancé of five years for Venus, Venus then magically sending Gloria to the North Pole and Rodney getting suspected of stealing the Venus statue and the murder of his wife. The script is refreshingly hilarious thanks to Nash, who was known for his light-hearted and humorous poetry at the time. The plot takes you on a wild ride of ups and downs and a bit of absurdity sprinkled in between; it reminded me a bit of the chaos of Mel Brooks’s The Producers.

Nash was also responsible for the lyrics and thus the songs are also a source of good chuckles as well as very clever and playful lyrics. A song where Nash’s playfulness really shines is “How Much I Love You,” where Rodney goes on a comparison spree to show how much he loves Gloria. The lyrics are accompanied by a score written by Kurt Weill, who was best known for his play with music, The Threepenny Opera. The sound of One Touch of Venus felt a bit more contemporary than I expected and gave me hints of Stephen Sondheim and even sometimes a bit of Alan Menken?! I can’t quite place my finger on it but either way, it was a hit with audiences back then. The big hit out of the show was the song “Speak Low,” which has since been covered by several famous singers including Barbara Streisand. Another song from this musical, “I’m A Stranger Here Myself,” was highlighted by a cover by Kristen Chenoweth.

The musical was adapted to film in 1948, where a couple of things were changed about the characters, story and score. This did not serve the movie well, however, and it was met with mediocre reviews. Since the film was made, One Touch of Venus has been restaged a couple of times but has largely been forgotten.

This musical is a small gem of a golden age musical theatre comedy that, with a bit of “TLC” and a contemporary lyric rewrite here and there, could easily see a successful revival on Broadway so that everyone could experience One Touch of Venus.

Have you listened to One Touch of Venus? What do you think? Share your ideas in the comment box below!

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