It Happened in Key West at Charing Cross Theatre
Let’s make no bones about it; this is a show about necrophilia – the love expressed physically for a dead body. Billed as a new romantic comedy musical, It Happened in Key West brings to life the true story of Dr Carl Von Cosel and his “wife” Elena, with whose corpse he cohabited for many years after her passing. This is obviously an utterly bizarre, illegal and pathological state of affairs, but writer and composer Jill Santoriello asks the audience to see it as true love. Contemplating the affair, one character asks, “perhaps we should all love so crazily?” No thanks.
Despite its potential to be a zany and darkly comical piece, the production chooses a schmaltzier tack, with old-fashioned belly-wobbling numbers like At the End of the World resurrecting themselves regularly. Wade McCollum as Carl is one of the cast’s stronger vocalists, but he is pushed repeatedly into a falsetto that, although solid, adds little to the score where his metallic depth would serve it better. It is extremely hard to make this feel like a real love story – Elena did not love Carl while alive and she certainly didn’t change her mind on the other side – and yet the show consistently sanitises this in unconvincing tones of supposed adoration.
The musical’s best moments are satirical, sarcastic acknowledgements of the sheer oddity of Tanzler’s professed love for the ex-Elena. Ensemble tunes like Elena From Town are most enjoyable for not being totally deadpan about this “relationship”, and audiences respond with genuine mirth when allowed. The chorus is robust and the choreography here is well-attuned to the 1940s, but it is a rare instance that gives you a glimpse of how the production could be improved.
Movies and shows have been written on stranger fictions, but it is always a matter of striking the right tone for your subject matter. It Happened in Key West misses a chance to make audiences laugh by choosing instead to insist upon the impossible. Carl and Elena’s love wasn’t undying; it was never alive in the first place. Seriously, don’t look up the pictures.
Photo: Darren Bell
It Happened in Key West is at Charing Cross Theatre from 4th July until 18th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here
Watch the trailer for It Happened in Key West here: