With the thespian gods obviously smiling down on its efforts, Musical Theatre Guild recently presented the almost never produced Broadway musical "One Touch of Venus" at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
Director Richard Israel and choreographer Karen Nowicki, with a cast of 17 stage and screen veterans managed in only 25 hours of preparation to produce results rivaling productions afforded far longer rehearsal periods. Though the cast carried scripts in hand throughout the show, the universally knockout performances made one completely forget this was a "staged reading".
Headlining in the title role of the Roman Goddess of Love brought to life from statuary form was the stunningly beautiful Jennifer Shelton. She commanded the stage at every turn, demonstrating a flair for comic timing upstaged only by her sultry and often soaring vocal solos.
From listening to her renditions of "I'm A Stranger Here Myself" and "That's Him," it's easy to understand why these songs were standalone hits following the production's original 14-month run beginning in 1943. But it was Shelton's luscious interpretation of composer Kurt Weill's and lyricist Ogden Nash's introspectively focused, first act ballad "Foolish Heart" that nearly stopped the show.
Matching this true leading lady was Will Collyer's button-cute portrayal of Rodney Hatch, Venus' naïve, puppy love interest. Collyer's tenor range has the perfect lyrical tone for tunes such as "Wooden Wedding," "Speak Low" and a pair of hilarious first act patter songs, "How Much I Love You" and "That's How I Am Sick of Love".
Likewise, Kevin Symons was right on target as he played up the irascibility of Whitelaw Savory, the millionaire modern art aficionado who started the whole show rolling by having added the Venus statue to his collection. Symons ended the first act with a tour de force display of spot-on diction and elocution with his version of a sinister piece titled "Dr. Crippen," which set up Rodney and Venus for a crime they didn't commit.
Comic support was in abundant supply due to the efforts of Diane Vincent as Molly Grant, Savory's acerbic secretary with the heart of gold. Classic motion picture connoisseurs might recall this role was played by screen legend Eve Arden in the 1948 film version, but Vincent brought a true sense of heart to what otherwise might have been just a stock sidekick.
A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's skill as one of Southern California's premier costume designers was on display with vintage apparel that set just the right atmosphere.
A special highlight to cap off the evening was the lush sounds of a full-size orchestra under the baton of musical director Dean Mora, made possible by a generous donation from David Lee, a longtime MTG financial angel.
Dink O'Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.
What: Musical Theatre Guild's Staged Readings (Next up is "Little Me")
When: 7:30 p.m. April 18
Where: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale
Tickets: $30 to $40
Contact: (818) 243-2539 or visit www.musicaltheatreguild.com