Review: Love Goddess – the Rita Hayworth Musical (The Cockpit)

This show has been in creator/co-writer/lead performer Almog Pail’s life for a long time: originally a one-woman play called Me, Myself and Rita, it became a cabaret performance (which, in clips found online, seems to be perfect for both the material and Pail).

Now with the addition of a further four cast members, Love Goddess has become a full-length musical, in which the events in the former Margarita Carmen Cansino’s life play out in the mind of Rita Hayworth, the screen icon she became.

We have seen plays about screen icons before, notably Judy Garland and Ava Gardner, Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor. Their stories are fair game and often show triumph over adversity in a male-dominated world, however bleak the ending.

In The Cockpit’s small space for Rita Hayworth’s story, the staging is inspired and the set minimal – stairs into the audience areas and gallery spaces above are utilised, and the expanse of floor is used for some enjoyable dance sequences, choreographed by Jacqui Jameson.

Pail’s voice sounds rather weak in song (unsure whether this was artistic choice or sound/speaker imbalance) but her acting is strong in the scenes where she watches her younger self (a stunning debut from Imogen Kingsley-Smith).

Production photo from Love Goddess

If you know nothing about Hayworth, you may be a little confused at times. A hint of sexual abuse at the hands of her father is awkwardly handled, but her decline from Alzheimer’s is touching.

The song about the five husbands – in cabaret offering a chance at audience participation – adds a bit of black humour but highlights the fact that after Gilda, Love Goddess raced through the final four decades of Hayworth’s life.

We don’t get a sense of who Cansino/Hayworth was, not really. A young dreamer who wanted to dance, encouraged by her mother (a former Follies dancer, played by Jane Quinn) and pushed by her father (Joey Simon), before being practically sold into marriage to a rich man who promises movie fame.

An exotic decoration to undistinguished musicals and cowboy flicks, the speciality dancer with no need to speak. Billed as Rita Cansino, she had not yet been ‘created’ but that would come with an image reboot – including raising her hairline and dying her hair flame red.

We see predatirs at every turn: Columbia mogul Harry Cohn; husbands Eddie Judson and Orson Welles (“my second husband, my first at heart”), even a female reporter (Quinn again, who brought back the ghost of Hayworth contemporary Martha Raye) who seeks to befriend her.

Production photo from Love Goddess

It’s possible Love Goddess is better small-scale, one person. The score and songs by Logan Medland are fine but sometimes repetitive (another nod to the ravages of dementia?); the plot has loose ends which could be pulled tighter.

On the other hand, Love Goddess is certainly ambitious, and could stand a firther expansion with a biggest cast if that’s the way Pail and co-writer Stephen Garvey wish to take it.

It has moments to please film fans: a duet with Simon’s Fred Astaire (it was rumoured they had an affair) is glorious; and of course, Gilda‘s iconic costume beloved of so many lobby stills.

The opening and final scenes were also excellent, with the two Ritas mirroring each other, one above, one below. I can’t fault the direction from Steve North who makes the most of the theatre’s space.

A show which has potential, you can watch Love Goddess, the Rita Hayworth Musical at The Cockpit until 23 December. Book your tickets here.

**.5

Image credit: Roswitha Chesher

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