Finally, a musical that dares to depict the nobility and romance of corpse fucking. It Happened In Key West has been a long time coming for die-hard advocates of necrophilia: fine men and women who all too often have to put up with cruel, misguided comments from frankly unimaginative people who see a dead body and don't see an (over) ripe opportunity for straight-up sexy times.
Set in the sunny Florida keys, this is the true story of Count Carl von Cosel (Wade McCollum) and his (literally) undying love for a woman called Elena (Alyssa Martin). Theirs might have been a traditional love story were it not for Elena dying of tuberculosis, despite his frantic efforts to cure her. Lesser men might have grieved and moved on - but not Count Carl von Cosel.
After two years of mourning he cracked open her tomb and carted what was left of her home, expertly fixing up her with a combination of piano wire, wax and a hell of a lot of perfume. Life was bliss... until her family discovered what von Cosel had been up to.
It Happened In Key West is told from his von Cosel's perspective and with the bonkers forthrightness to treat this as a grand romance rather than a freakin' weird-ass dude obsessed with a mouldy corpse. The show's insistence that this actually isn't that weird a situation after all gives the story a snowballing ludicrousness that's both hilarious and satirises the generally saccharine genre of musical theatre. After all, what better way to poke fun at the objectification of women in a male protagonist-led romance than by reducing her to a literal object mid-way through the play?
Then again, there's also the outside chance that the writers genuinely think this is a romance. After all, the programme claims that von Cosel's story "reverberates through time as a universal tale of the incredible power love wields over each and every one of it" and the von Cosel was subject to an "immense and beautiful power [that] was the driving force propelling our hero every step of his journey".
It follows that up with - I kid you not - a goddamn Bible quote: "Love BEARS all things. BELIEVES in all things. HOPES all things, and ENDURES all things - First Corinthians 13:17" (capitalisation theirs). Hey guys, I'm not no theologian or nothing, but I'm pretty sure the Christian church has a concrete "til death us do part" policy that specifically excludes getting it on with an admittedly quite fetching corpse.
Honestly it doesn't matter whether this is a pointed satire of musical romance OR a genuine paean to the myriad pleasures and romanticism of necrophilia - this is a deeply, powerfully strange bit of theatre that I adored just about every second of.
The songs are great - particularly Undying Love and Don't Worry About A Thing, and they're effectively performed by a cast that skates along the very thin line between sincerity and slyly winking at the audience. The dialogue is funny, providing a genuine cackle from me about every couple of minutes.
The insanely talented Wade McCollum throws himself with zero abandon into portraying von Cosel as broken but basically charismatic, just about managing the Sisyphean task of making us sympathise with his plight, perhaps helped by him booming out his dialogue like an operatic Frasier Crane.
For the sake of a good pun I wish I could say that Alyssa Martin was a bit stiff, but she manages to make an (understandably) under-written role pop. There's something of the virginal Disney princess to the way she approaches the role - her wistful songs about seeing the world and living among the stars cruelly funny given that the show's concept revolves around her imminent death and the Weekend at Bernie's style descretion of her corpse.
I loved It Happened In Key West - it's exactly the kind of head-scratching what-the-fuck theatre that presses my buttons. Though it functions perfectly well as a parody of the kind of sugary shit that generally clogs up the West End, I really, really, really hope that this show is entirely straightforward in its goal of turning a necrophiliac into a genuine romantic hero because that is fucking bananas.
In summary, It Happened In Key West is...
It Happened In Key West is at the Charing Cross Theatre until 18 August. Tickets here.