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Janet Blair (remember her?) stars in vintage TV musical, "One Touch of Venus"

Out of sight?
Author's collection

The fabled Kurt Weill-Ogden Nash musical One Touch of Venus was once, almost 60 years ago, filmed for television. While this sounds like a wonderful idea, it is, alas, rather unfortunate. Fabled yet unseen classics should perhaps remain that way.
Continuing the Video Artists International series of TV musicals broadcast in the '50s, including Bloomer Girl, Connecticut Yankee and Groucho Marx in The Mikado (no, I'm not making this up), One Touch of Venus is something of the Holy Grail. With Weill doing the score, Nash the lyrics, and S.J. Perelman the book, what could go wrong?
Well, let's just say that it really doesn't age well.
The show, with Mary Martin no less, opened on Broadway in 1943 and played for more than 500 performances, and five years later was made into a musical starring Ava Gardner. It tells the story of the goddess Venus coming to life and wreaking havoc in modern day Manhattan. This television version, done in 1955, stars Janet Blair as Venus, and she's as charming and gamine-like as you could want. It also stars Russell Nype, Ethel Merman's foil in Call Me Madam, and a fair amount of Broadway names from the fifties, such as George Gaynes, Mort Marshall, and, for you true Broadway musical queens, a pre-Shipoopi'd Iggie Wolfington (O.K., it was The Music Man). Directed by George Schaefer, what could go wrong?
Well, maybe the original material leaves something to be desired.
To begin with, the work itself is strange. It's one of the few storied classics that is not mentioned by Sondheim in his two volume encyclopedia of Broadway and how it relates to his career. Although it may be anathema to say, it seems almost as if the two collaborators never met . . . like Weill gave Nash some music to set lyrics to, and Nash gave Weill some lyrics to set music to. The rhyme schemes are very peculiar, stretched to the breaking point, especially for someone who is rivaled only by Dorothy Parker for light, humorous verse. And, other than the song "Speak Low," and maybe "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," it's a strangely pedestrian score for Weill.
Nevertheless, Video Artists International is to be congratulated and encouraged for continuing to unearth Broadway history, There are bound to be some klunkers, but fans are going to gobble all of this stuff up, as well they should.

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