By the time he wrote the music for One Touch of Venus in 1948, Kurt Weill had been a continent away from the aesthetics and politics of Europe for over a decade. It's strange then, in what was primarily a show designed for Broadway audiences, to still detect traces of his original style lurking beneath the ostentation.
The lyrics of Ogden Nash, which Weill cast his jaunty rhythms around, flow straight from the Cole Porter book of chiming wordplay. But it's the merging of the widely discussed 'two Weills' styles which catches the ear at the outset, with the company's rendering of New Art Is True Art. The melody and swagger are pure Cole Porter too, but there's a Germanic staccato underneath which marks the number as truly memorable.
The King's Head Theatre in Islington provides an agreeable setting for this work, which requires little more than a piano and some genuine singers to make it fly. The venue also unveiled its new air-conditioning for the event, which was useful on a night when the audience were rammed in like caged Connex commuters. Indeed, space was at such a premium on and off stage that the singers gladly spilled out into the throng. This is musical performing of real calibre, without the safety nets of radio mics (or any mics), added reverb and echoing PA systems. When the performers are this close at hand, you can see whose sweat is genuine and ride those high notes with them whilst almost experiencing them in your own larynx.
One whose notes, or sweat rate, never falters is the excellent Peter Land as Whitelaw Savory. He plays the art collector and tutor whose statue of Venus reminds him of a lost love. However, when his barber (a wistful Michael Gyngell) places a ring on the statue's finger, it comes to life and pursues the hairdresser with a lover's vengeance. It's a quaintly moralistic and romantic story, looking squarely at idealised notions of love, but one that serves up some terrific moments. The cast numbers in particular, such as Dr Crippen and Way Out West In Jersey, are delivered with a verve and precision that reminds you just how much is lost inside larger venues.
More intimate, however, were the solos and duets featuring Peter Land, and Kim Medcalf as the sultry Venus. Whether the early Weill would have imagined himself composing rhapsodic pieces like West Wind and Foolish Heart is debatable, but consider that this show was writer two years before his untimely death and imagine what might have come later.
Anyone wishing to recapture the close-up experience of a musical performed in the raw should dash with all haste to the King's Head for this run. Only the four male leads, stumbling slightly over the words to The Trouble With Women, revealed the human frailty of a nervous opening night. But at least you didn't need a pair of opera glasses to spot it.