Pros: Strong performances and voices deliver pleasant musical numbers and some funny lines.
Cons: A very strange and inappropriate interpretation of the subject matter.
This is one of the most surreal things I have seen in a long time. At first I wondered what on earth I had come to see, then it started to grow on me, but then it just got too strange. Billed as “sentimental and heart-warming”, it could also be described as black comedy, horror, or even downright weird.
On entering Charing Cross Theatre it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security: the sound of waves laps against the shore, seagulls squawk, trains rumble overhead, and someone picks at a guitar as the sun sets. But this tranquil welcome is disturbed when we are thrown into the weird world of Count Carl von Cosel, a shipwrecked ‘scientist’ who finds himself in Key West, lands a job as an x-ray technician at the local hospital and becomes fixated with one of the patients.
Elena is a young woman with Tuberculosis – usually fatal in the 1930s setting – but Carl has convinced himself she is the love of his life. He persuades Elena and her family that he can deliver a cure for her illness with his self-made electrical contraptions. The promise of regular payments to the family, along with gifts of jewellery and chocolates guarantees their agreement.
The show is based on the true story of Carl Tanzler. Despite already having a wife and family, Tanzler became fixated on a very ill, vulnerable young woman and proceeded to stalk her during her illness and even after her death, resulting in grave robbing, necrophilia and amateur mummification. It appears he also became a bit of a celebrity when he was found out.
The music was pleasing, with some particularly catchy songs, ‘Black Wedding’ being one of them. Leads Wade McCollum and Alyssa Martyn really belted out their big numbers, and the troubadour and ensemble pieces were also very enjoyable. It was generally amusing with some funny one-liners, although the audience laughter did seem a bit nervous.
It must have been absolutely terrifying for a young woman who was really ill to be stalked by a much older mad scientist type, being subjected to his special ‘curative’ treatments, probably having been pressed into doing so by friends and family. I am not at all convinced about it being a romance, not on her part anyway, and it seems Tanzler needed some serious help and support. Treating it this way normalises and belittles the objectification of young women and almost pokes fun at mental illness. A horror or thriller maybe, but light romantic musical? Not really. The cast, creative and production teams did well, just a shame about the dodgy subject matter.
Music Book and Lyrics: Jill Santoriello
Book and Additional Lyrics: Jason Huza
Book and Original Concept: Jeremiah James
Director and Choreographer: Marc Robin
Musical Director: Andrew Hopkins
Producer: Jeremiah James
Booking Until: 18 August 2018
Box Office: 08444 930 650
Booking Link: http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/it-happened-in-key-west