Review by Daz Gale
A brand new musical has received its world premiere in London with the subject being one of the most iconic stars of stage that ever lived. Love Goddess tells the story of the legendary Rita Hayworth. Calling the Cockpit Theatre home for the next few weeks, was this one new musical I'd love or was it the pits?
Starting life as a solo play created by Almog Pail entitled ‘Me, Myself and Rita’ winning raves from audiences and critics in Malta, Off-Broadway and London, it has now evolved into a full scale musical which now receives its UK premiere. Love Goddess charts the life and loves of Rita Hayworth, an actress and dancer who was one of the biggest stars of the 1940s, widely believed to be the most beautiful woman of her day and Fred Astaire’s all-time favourite dance partner.
I'd like to preface the rest of this review by reiterating my mantra when reviewing any shows at all. I always go in to it as a blank canvas and enjoy being surprised by the show, be that in a good way or a bad. You are not going to like every show and often reviews can be used in a constructive manner rather than completely annihilate a show if it didn't quite hit the mark. In these cases, I like to concentrate on the positive aspects of the production. In very rare instances though, these positives are few and far between. Sadly, this is the case for Love Goddess.
Creator and co-writer Almog Pail leads the musical as Rita Hayworth. It almost feels like she has spread herself too thin with this challenge as unfortunately she falls drastically short in her performance. Frustratingly unable to command the attention of the audience, she is regularly overshadowed by her fellow performers. Often feeling as if she is skulking in the background rather than being prominent in the narrative at all, this structure choice takes her out of the equation when more focus should in theory be on its main star. It would be cruel to dwell on specifics of her performance but suffice to say, these aren’t quite at the level necessary to pull this role off.
Much better in her portrayal is the criminally underused Imogen Kingsley-Smith as the young Rita. More captivating in the role, she exudes the kind of star quality a legend like Rita Hayworth deserves. Sadly, she is pushed aside regularly and has to spend most of act two as an ensemble member, never reclaiming her brief time in the spotlight. This narrative choice of having two interchangeable Ritas is extremely flawed and convoluted, never quite defining who is which version of her and why there are two of them at certain times.
The writing never quite lands where it should with too much back and forth throughout various timelines but never a clear enough narrative of what is going on. We don’t seem to find out much about Rita with one paragraph on Wikipedia managing to convey more information. One speedy sequence sees Rita recount all her marriages – this deserved more exposition. Similarly, her Alzheimers diagnosis is merely touched upon at the climax. Given a bit more scope, this could have formed a much needed sense of heart to the show – something that was all too lacking, Meanwhile, lines that are meant to be comedic fell completely flat in a show that was tonally all over the place.
The music that accompanies the show is disappointingly subpar. A grand theme is deserving of grand music but what we receive are a mixture of forgettable songs all of middling quality, but never quite reaching the level they should. One such number features nonsensical rhymes including “You will not forget her when you’ve seen her in a sweater” which only stick out for the wrong reasons.
The staging of this production didn’t work for a variety of reasons. The sole piece of set is a small staircase that cheapens the look and doesn’t quite match the glamour of the story. As nice a theatre as The Cockpit is, I question how fitting it is for this production in particular. It’s choice to be staged in the round showed up a lot of its faults, such as one moment where a magic trick is pre-empted from seeing the set up. Playing to an audience in one direction rather than the round would go a long way to improving how this actually looks to the audience. The choice to use the upper level of the theatre so actors were shouting over the audience were another problematic concept that didn’t quite work.
One element that has huge potential was the choreography from Jacqui Jameson. The closest Love Goddess gets to captivating was in dance sequences, particularly showcasing Rita and Fred Astaire. One sequence towards the end of act one showed what could be achieved had a little more thought gone in to making a cohesive production and gives me hope that there is still a good show in here somewhere.
There were elements of this production that could have been better given a bit more time. It felt wildly under-rehearsed with too many mishaps surrounding props, and cast members stumbling over their lines. While this is the nature of the industry, the far too regular mistakes made it harder to escape into the structure of the show as something would always bring you back into reality – the opposite of what good theatre should do.
While I may have been harsh in my criticisms of my show, I do believe there is potential in Love Goddess. Nothing is beyond repair but this might be a case of going back to the drawing board, clearly identifying its narrative structure and making the substantial but necessary tweaks. The whole thing was impossible to follow but had a few brief moments which showed what may have been possible with a clearer narrative. The whole thing doesn’t feel befitting one star who has transcended the decades, and as such, one star is all I can give it.
Please remember this is one persons opinion. I would encourage everyone to still see a show for themselves and see if you disagree with me. I always welcome the discussion.
Love Goddess plays at The Cockpit Theatre until December 23rd.. Tickets from https://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/love_goddess_the_rita_hayworth_musical
Photos by Roswitha Chesher