Some strong performances, a lilting, evocative score, and polished choreography holds this show together.
LOVE GODDESS seems to have been a very personal labour of love for creator and star, Israeli born, Almog Pail. Originally a one-woman play, Me, Myself and Rita, which evolved into Love Goddess, the Cabaret receiving critical acclaim in Malta, Off-Broadway, and the London fringe. One further transformation now sees the work as a full-scale musical, with its world premiere at The Cockpit. Pail who stars in the title role, was apparently inspired to write the original work following her own grandfather’s decline with Alzheimer’s disease which contributed to the death of movie legend Rita Hayworth in 1987.
The overall chronological narrative hangs together well with cleverly written songs adding both pace and levity to what is sometimes a melancholic biographical story. The score is familiar, evoking the mood of the 1940’s and 50’s and partners well with the very stylish choreography. The dancing is a standout strength of this show, tightly executed with some beautifully expressive performances especially from Imogen Kingsley-Smith who plays a ‘Young Rita’. Joey Simon who plays both a Young Rita’s professional dancer father, Eduardo Cansino and later co-star and dance partner, Fred Astaire – lives up very well to the high audience expectations of one the of the world’s best dancers.
Performed in the round, with no real set bar a centre raised square platform with sets of stairs leading from all 4 sides, the talent is very much the focus. Each actor except for Pail, plays multiple parts, with costume adjustments to aid the storytelling. However, in the title role, the vocal from Pail, was at times weak and lacked the impact that her acting and presence commanded. She does cope convincingly with the latter stages of Rita’s life, depicting the inevitable memory loss and ultimate, rather public, demise of this huge star.
Another notable performance is from Jane Quinn who played (almost all other roles) Young Rita’s mother, Volga Cansino. She does so with heart and a fearful knowingness, as a Young Rita is taken to Mexico to perform with her father at the tender age of 12. The abuse that Rita is said to have experienced at the hands of her father is hinted at subtly but uncomfortably, conveying the terribly vulnerable position Rita found herself in.
Overall, some strong performances, a lilting, evocative score, and polished choreography holds this show together. A little more attention on aesthetics, costumes and wigs, would, especially given the intimacy of the venue, elevate this even further without too much strain on the budget. In any case, these tweaks do not distract from a moving story about incredible talent, abuse, including that at the hands of the movie studio executives, and a woman seeking to be loved for who she really was rather than her on-screen pin-up persona.
Love Goddess, the Rita Hayworth Musical is at The Cockpit theatre London until 23 December 2022.
Review by Louise Benham
Star rating: 3/5