One Touch of Venus | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

One Touch of Venus 

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One Touch of Venus

Strike Up the Band--the inaugural production of the "Ovations!" series of musical re-creations at the Auditorium Theatre--was a terrific calling card for a grand new venture. Nothing was stagy about this concert performance, which may have omitted sets, period costumes, and choreography but offered superb singing, faithful orchestrations, a great band, and a pitch-perfect staging. The second "Ovations!" offering celebrates Kurt Weill's centenary with a concert performance of his mythological romp One Touch of Venus. In the Pygmalion-like story, a statue of Venus comes alive after 3,000 years and falls in--and out of--love with a New York barber. It's a perfect excuse for comic confusion until the goddess wises up and happily turns back to marble. Directed by the indefatigable Gary Griffin, this production stars silky-smooth chanteuse Liz Callaway, nominated for a Tony, and boasts a ravishing score ("Speak Low,""I'm a Stranger Here Myself," "Foolish Heart"). A lesser-known 1943 work (revived here in 1997 by Light Opera Works), it's fueled by Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman's snappy but dated patter: novelty numbers like "The Trouble With Women (Is Men)" sometimes play like vaudeville's last gasp. But what a score! Callaway, whose voice has graced Broadway (Merrily We Roll Along, Baby, Miss Saigon) and two recordings, should bring the statuesque Venus to very contemporary life. Also appearing are such Chicago powerhouses as James Moye, Roger Mueller, E. Faye Butler, Sharon Carlson, Ray Frewen, and James FitzGerald; musical director Paul Raiman serves as conductor, and Roy Leonard narrates, as he did for Strike Up the Band. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 312-902-1500. Opens Thursday, April 6, 8 PM. Through April 9: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $17-$77.

--Lawrence Bommer

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