One Touch of Venus

Impeccably reviving Kurt Weill’s nearly forgotten 1943 musical, Light Opera Works and Pegasus Players do what comes naturally to them and what few companies do better: restore a slice of Americana to the theatrical menu. Just as Chicago when it opened suffered by comparison with A Chorus Line, so this musical fell under the shadow of Oklahoma! The book, by Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman, is a throwback to the shtick-chasing days of Tin Pan Alley; in the Pygmalion-like story, a statue of Venus comes to life to fall in–and out of–love with a good-hearted New York barber, a tale that offers character actors the chance to shamelessly ape assorted Gotham stereotypes. J.R. Sullivan’s sometimes skittish but never dull staging and Marla Lampert’s choreography (which honors Agnes de Mille’s satirical ballets) keep the nearly three-hour saga as fresh as the material permits. When it does sag, Weill’s melodies, spiced by Nash’s quicksilver lyrics, show how the post-Brecht composer made up in inspiration what he lost in indignation with such gems as the sultry “Speak Low,” the elegant “Foolish Heart,” and the hearty “The Trouble With Women (Is Men).” William Chamberlain brings a flawless tenor to the barber’s ballads; Susan Prischmann as Venus displays a warm soprano, but her charm is somewhat brittle. Guy Victor Bordo conducts an ensemble who clearly savor the original orchestrations, and Alan Donahue’s nicely skewed set pieces evoke a New York we can feel some nostalgia for. Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston, 847-869-6300. Through August 24: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $21-$48; half price for children and teenagers.

–Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still by Rich Foreman.