LOVE GODDESS, THE RITA HAYWORTH MUSICAL at the Cockpit Theatre
“Logan Medland’s score keeps the show afloat too, with a song list that could have been plucked straight from the era.”
Margarita Carmen Cansino, born in Brooklyn in 1918, would come to be worshipped as the sex symbol Rita Hayworth. The ‘femme fatale’ star of films such as “Gilda”, “Only Angels Have Wings” and “The Strawberry Blonde”, she was the top pin up girl for GIs during World War II, and was coined ‘The Love Goddess’ by the press. Achieving fame in the 1940s she went on to make over sixty films over the next four decades.
Very few people, however, recognised the trauma that lay beneath her glitzy persona. What happened to the child that was Margarita would scar Rita forever. Orson Wells, her second husband, was one of the few that got close enough to observe: “All her life was pain”. Hayworth’s story is rich pickings for a musical; as it unfolds around the extraordinary figures in her life. The husbands, the parents and the co-stars, the reporters who helped and hindered her, and the moguls who made her and broke her.
“Love Goddess – The Rita Hayworth Musical” is the creation of Almog Pail, who wrote the book (with Stephen Garvey) and plays Hayworth. Originally a one-woman cabaret show entitled “Me, Myself and Rita” it has, according to the pr copy, ‘evolved into a full-scale musical’. However, this production hasn’t scaled the fullness. The ambition is undoubtedly there, and we do get a very fine picture of the blueprint. The story is presented through the fragmented mind of Hayworth during the final chapters of her life, as she interacts with memories, ghosts, lovers and her younger self. On the page it’s a gorgeous concept, on the stage it somehow fails to ignite. Too many issues are underexplored. Hayworth’s Alzheimer’s disease, which contributed to her early death and hugely drew attention (not to mention funding and research) to the condition, gets little more than a token mention.
Although she has the required passion and ambition, Pail lacks the gravitas – and the voice – to depict Hayworth with the credibility needed. She is surrounded by a fine ensemble who between them cover the roster of every significant player in Hayworth’s life. An impressive troupe, the shining star of which is Imogen Kingsley-Smith as the young Rita, whose effervescent presence and talent lifts the show each time she acts, dances or sings her way across the stage.
Logan Medland’s score keeps the show afloat too, with a song list that could have been plucked straight from the era. Latin rhythms and tangos mingle with smoky, jazzy numbers and that ol razzle dazzle – ‘The Five Men I Married’ being a standout number, recalling Chicago’s ‘Cell Block Tango’. Again, though, the sound sometimes falls flat, and the richness of the orchestration and ensemble arrangement required is left to the imagination. This show is longing for someone to come along and splash some colour between the brushed outlines. We have a glimpse of what this could be. Most of us know something of Hayworth’s story. For those who don’t, the piece will shed enough light, and will do so with clever staging and imaginative use of chronology. It shouldn’t shy away from the fact that there isn’t necessarily a happy ending. It has enough, particularly in the score, to both celebrate and elevate the melancholy. But not quite enough yet to really move us.
Reviewed on 20th November 2022
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Roswitha Chesher
Previously reviewed at this venue: