Love Goddess, the Rita Hayworth Musical.
The Cockpit, London, until December 23.
Musical Almog Pail and co-writer Stephen Garvey.
Director: Steve North
Cast: Almog Pail, Simon Kane, Imogen Kingsley-Smith, Jane Quinn, Joey Simon
Producer: Blue Panther Productions in collaboration with The Cockpit
Rita Hayworth was considered one of the most beautiful women of her day, was Fred Astaire’s favourite dance partner, and was married five times, including to Orson Welles, the man she is believed to have truly loved. She also suffered from Alzheimer’s for two decades before being diagnosed.
It’s this last aspect of the screen goddess that caught the imagination of Almog Pail, whose grandfather Israeli politician Meir Pa’il also had the disease. Pail (without the apostrophe) is the author and star of a one-woman play now reworked into a five-person musical set apart by the uncomfortable issues it raises, which make it thought-provoking but confuses our emotional response. Instead of allowing us to escape into the romance of Hollywood, it does the opposite. Like Hayworth’s lovers, who, as she famously said, went to bed with Gilda – her greatest role – and woke up with her, we confront the reality of a woman scarred by the “me too” game she was told she had to play and eventually fragmented by a disease every bit as cruel as her men.
Originally Margarita Carmen Cansino, Hayworth had had no time to establish her identity when her parents decided she was their means to pay the monthly grocery bill and that anything her complicit mother had told her about female independence was just a soothing fantasy.
Instead, she was repeatedly shaped by men who behaved as if they owned her from her father to her boss Harry Cohn, the president of Columbia Pictures, played by Joey Simon and Simon Kane respectively, as the nimble cast of five takes on dozens of roles.
The one man who simply respected her skill and grace as a dancer was Astaire, also played by Joey Simon.
Together with Imogen Kingsley-Smith as the younger Hayworth, Simon bravely throws himself into the impossible task of recreating the apparently effortless flow of Hayworth and Astaire together.
A flawless dancer, Hayworth did not sing: she was dubbed, making her again a problematic choice as the subject of a musical. All that said, the mellow, unforced singing of Pail and her version of Hayworth leave us with an abundance of sympathy for the tragic, misunderstood woman behind the Hollywood legend.
Barbara Lewis © 2022.