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Chester Chronicle -- by Gill Isted

The Broadway musical, One Touch of Venus, receives its first full-time British staging, thanks to the inventive and futuristic thinking of Leeds-based Opera North.

It can be seen at The Lowry, Salford Quays, on Tuesday (March 1), Thursday (March 3) and Saturday (April 9).

The original production ran for 567 performances at its 1943 premier on Broadway, when Mary Martin sang the title role.  In 1948, it was made into a film, with Ava Gardner as Venus.

The music is described as being 'reminiscent of Cole Porter but with an effective twist of Weill' and is set to smart, witty lyrics by the poet Ogden Nash.  The book is by humorist S.J. Perelman, whose varied output includes screenplays for the Marx Brothers.

American Karen Coker makes her Opera North and European debut as Venus, the goddess awakened from her 3,000 year sleep by the timid, downtown barber Rodney Hatch, played by Los Angeles-born Loren Geeting, winner of the BBC Radio 2's Voice of Musical Theatre Award.

Rodney places the ring of his fiancee, Gloria, played by Jessica Walker, on Venus's finger and inadvertently brings her to life.  In so doing, his problems begin.

Ron Li-Paz is the wealthy New York art collector, Whitelaw Savory, obsessed with Venus and from whose modern art academy she disappears.  His staff consists of spiky secretary, Molly, played by another New Yorker, Christianne Tisdale, and his private detective, Taxi Black, played by the versatile Eric Roberts.

The show lightly satirizes American suburban values, artistic fads and modern sexual attitudes but also has deeper moments, typified with the haunting ballad, Speak Low.  Other famous songs include I'm a Stranger Here Myself and West Wind, both of which have become popular cabaret pieces.

In the hope of learning more about this fascinating production, I speak to Christianne.  I end up learning more about a fascinating person than I do about the opera and, by the end I feel it is I who have been interviewed, not her!

Christianne, according to the notes I have about her, was born on Long Island, New York, and is the youngest of five children -- three brothers and one sister.  Of her brothers, one is an attorney, one an electrical engineer and one a writer.  Her father is an electrical engineer and her mother is a registered children's nurse.

The singer, who has lived in Manhattan for 18 years, studied music theory and music history at Yale -- many of her former classmates are now music directors on Broadway -- before gaining a Masters degree at the Manhattan School of Music where she studied voice and opera.

She worked sporadically in opera until she was 30, working as a paralegal (an attorney's assistant) to help make ends meet.  She also became managing director of a Wall Street brokerage house*** and enjoyed a stint as box office manager at the Yale Repertory and Yale School of Drama.  Then finding she did not suit opera and it did not suit her, she switched to musical theatre.

She has recorded a CD, Just a Map -- A Lullaby to the World, of lullabies from around the world in 14 different languages and 10% of the profits go to charities promoting peace and human rights awareness.

She sings at about 10 pops concerts (not 'pop' in the British sense, but as in 'popular music') a year with different orchestra throughout America, with a group called Leading Ladies of Broadway.

As if that is not enough, she belongs to BookPals -- members of the Screen Actors Guild who go into schools once a week to promote reading and literacy.

One Touch of Venus, she tells me, is a musical through and through though not typical Weill, but eWill during his Broadway period, when he took up and used a lot of other composers' styles.

'What comes through is his wicked sense of humour,' she adds.

'I've heard a recording of him singing his own music and he sings one of the numbers in my second act, Very, Very, Very.  He made the recording to get the show across to the producers.'

'I'm having a great time in it.   It's set in New York in the 1940s so, as you can imagine, there are some great costumes.  Emma Ryott, the designer, went wild and has come up with some extraordinary creations -- she has a glorious sense of style.  I haven't looked this good on stage for ages, and I'm so enjoying it.'

'This is my first time working in England and I like it.  I like the audiences, the reviewers, and I adore my U.K. colleagues.  The Opera North Chorus is delightful as well, game for anything, they really go out on a limb every night and give it all they have.  I've seen some of their work before and I was floored by their Manon Lescaut -- that was fantastic.'

Explaining her pops group singing, she says, 'They're gigs with symphony orchestras where we sing proper Broadway music.  I do the concert with two friends and we go through a lot of show-stoppers which have been arranged for three female voices.  Matchmaker, from Fiddler on the Roof,  always goes down well and we finish Act I with Gotta Get a Gimmick from Gypsy - we do the strippers' number in evening gowns.'

'It's fun music -- we have so much fun it should be illegal -- we've laughed so much on stage that we've had to stop the show.'

'At the moment, there are a few problems with management but we hope to be doing one again soon -- I'd love to stage one here as a fundraiser for Opera North's renovation of The Grand.  I think English audiences would love it.'


*** Yeah...uh huh!  You think I would be doing this if I had a multi-million dollar salary?    I was p.a. to the managing director of an arbitrage house.  Yup...that's what I was.