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Love Goddess: The Rita Hayworth Musical

There’s a generic feel to Love Goddess: The Rita Hayworth Musical. Hayworth (Almog Pail) took her mother’s maiden name as her own because, as this production would have it, certain Hollywood bigwigs were either too bigoted or too stupid, or both, to get their tongues around her actual name, Margarita Carmen Cansino. Born to dancers, Eduardo (Joey Simon) and Volga (Jane Quinn), her father was rather aggressive in his teaching methods, in ways that would be considered downright unacceptable in this day and age. Her mother comes across as more loving and more forgiving, inasmuch as she was loving and forgiving in the first place. But is this really any different to any other celebrity over the years who had complicated relations with their parents?

LOVE GODDESS The Rita Hayworth Musical. Almog Pail and Simon Kane. Photo by Roswitha Chesher.
LOVE GODDESS The Rita Hayworth Musical. Almog Pail and Simon Kane. Photo by Roswitha Chesher.

Perhaps it’s because the London stage has seen Hayworth’s kind of life story before, in the form of End of the Rainbow, about Judy Garland, who also started performing as a child before going on to being exploited by Hollywood and having five husbands. Hayworth was, according to this show, effectively typecast at a young age, appearing in film after film, but performing characters who were similar to one another: “The titles [of the motion pictures] are different, the parts are the same”.

But that becomes something of a running theme in this musical, as Hayworth is introduced repeatedly during the course of the performance, and while Neil Sedaka once sang “breaking up is hard to do”, it was less problematic for Hayworth. It’s all sufficiently summarised in ‘The Five Men I Married’, but the staging of the musical number made it seem as though Hayworth herself had chosen to walk away from all of them, positioning her as some kind of unsatisfiable diva. Even within the narrative of the show, however, it becomes clear that she was, to put it mildly, mistreated by some of them, so leaving was less of a choice and more of a necessity. Then again, Hayworth was, ultimately, the common denominator, so perhaps the show has a point.

It’s a show that has progressed from a one-act, one-woman show, to a two-act, five-actor show, but at the risk of asking a production that has walked a mile to run a marathon, it needs to scale up even more. There are song and dance numbers that would really shine if there was a full ensemble. As it is, the production does a serviceable job in terms of costumes, although its portrayal of top-notch film studios, particularly Columbia Pictures, leaves much to be desired. It does not necessarily require an expensive set –- some projections would go a long way.

Pail’s Hayworth doesn’t have the strongest of voices, and there were points in the performance when I struggled to work out what was being sung. Imogen Kingsley-Smith’s Young Rita commands the stage with elegance. I’m still not sure why there had to be two Ritas, as the storyline proceeds in forward chronological order. While no prior knowledge of Hayworth’s life is required before seeing this show, it would be beneficial to place more emphasis on the contractual arrangements common in Hollywood at the time: instructions to Hayworth to “do what your employer tells you”, for instance, only really make sense in the context of film actors being salaried employees of a studio, with no ability to pick and choose which films to be in and therefore be paid for.

By the interval, I wondered if there was going to be anything substantial to separate this story from that of so many other actresses of Hayworth’s era. When it comes, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is mentioned and acknowledged, but rather than dwell on that and the legacy she left by helping to destigmatise the condition and raise awareness of it, the show instead forces a musical theatre happy ending through, which frankly didn’t feel entirely appropriate. With some tightening of the script and more bells and whistles added, this show has potential.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Presenting a new musical from New York about one of the greatest movie stars who ever lived. Considered by many to be the most beautiful woman of her day, Fred Astaire’s all-time favourite dance partner, and the bride Orson Welles wanted more than any other woman in the world, there is only one Rita Hayworth.

Originally a solo play created and performed by Almog Pail entitled ‘Me, Myself and Rita’ and then ‘Love Goddess, the Cabaret,’ the show won raves from audiences and critics in Malta, Off-Broadway and London at the Canal Café Theatre, as it evolved into a full-scale musical. The show features gorgeous original music by Broadway pianist Logan Medland, and thrilling jazz, tap, and Flamenco dance sequences by award-winning choreographer Lorna Ventura.

This production, presented in collaboration with The Cockpit is the first production of the new full-length musical by Pail & co-writer Stephen Garvey, featuring five actor-singers led by Almog Pail,
portraying over 40 characters, with 12 original songs by composer-lyricist and music director Logan Medland.

Produced by Laura Lundy, Blue Panther Productions, New York

Love Goddess, the Rita Hayworth Musical’
Conceived by Almog Pail
Book by Almog Pail & Stephen Garvey,
Music & Lyrics by Logan Medland
Directed by Jay Stern

The Cockpit
Gateforth Street,
London NW8 8EH
18 November to 23 December 2022

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