Review: It Happened in Key West

4 star rating
Steers clear of potentially grisly aspects of a macabre true-life story, and tuneful songs, together with powerful and delightful singing, offer an agreeably entertaining evening.
It Happened in Key West at the Charing Cross Theatre

Image: Charing Cross Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 18 August 2018

Jill Santoriello and Jason Huza; book and Original Concept by Jeremiah James

Jill Santoriello, Robert Felstein (Orchestrator)

Jill Santoriello, additional Lyrics by Jason Huza

Marc Robin



Wade McCollum as Carl

Alyssa Martyn as Elena


Val Adams - Nurse

Miguel Angel - Dr Lombard/ Troubadour

Alexander Barria - Papa/ Sheriff

Mary-Jean Caldwell - Mama

Andrea  Golinucci - Swing

Siwan Henderson - Swing

Sophia Lewis - Nana

Guido Garcia Lueches - Luis/ Troubadour

Hannah McIver - Celia

Ross McLaren - Tom/ Troubadour

Johan Munir - Mario

Nuno Queimado - Enrique/ Lungu/ Judge


It Happened in Key West is the true 1930's story of an x-ray technician who meets the girl he has been envisioning and desperately seeking since he was a teen, only to diagnose her with tuberculosis and learn that she is married.

How can he win over the woman he has sought all his life and save her from a certain death?

What follows are his desperate and unorthodox attempts to save her life at all costs, and the undying love he displays when she succumbs to her illness.

Does this undying love show devotion beyond measure, the purest of loves?

Or a sick, macabre sensibility?

This true story stirred and divided the Key West community with intrigue, disgust, sympathy and romanticism over the scientist who became hopelessly inseparable from the woman of his dreams.

Funny, surprising, sentimental and heartwarming - this is like no musical you have ever seen!


ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Tuesday 10 July 2018
Review star rating image

A macabre, real-life tale from 1930's America is the strange and somewhat unnerving subject for this romantic musical comedy.

A note from the writers in the programme informs us that the realisation of this musical endeavour took "seven years of hard work".

Intriguing though the show is, with some memorable songs, there doesn't seem to be much to warrant such a lengthy development timescale - but maybe there's a plot for another musical lurking somewhere in that remark.

But let's return to the true story on which the musical is built ... and it's an odd one, revolving around a man called Count Carl von Cosel (1877 to 1952) sometimes known as Carl Tanzler.

His essential claim to fame is that he was discovered in 1940 to be living in Key West with the body of a deceased woman which he'd dug-up from a mausoleum where she was interned in 1933.

So, for seven long years, the man had been living with a decomposing corpse until the matter was discovered by the woman's relatives and he was arrested and charged.

As you might imagine given the gory interests of human beings, the case proved sensational at the time with the body even put on public display and viewed by over 6,000 people, and local shops presumably doing good business.

The musical treads a fine line, managing to avoid turning the story into something sordidly grisly or hideously revolting, and employing affectionate humour that prevents the central character from being either belittled or vilified.

There are no really big laughs - subtle, wry comedy is the order of the day here, and we find much of the humour from Wade McCollum's Carl, an obsessed and pontificating chap who claims a string of degrees (sometimes 9, sometimes 10) to authenticate his capabilities in the science department.

Mr McCollum has a powerful singing voice which impressively copes with the big numbers like 'Undying Love', which suitably and aptly wraps the first half.

And his characterisation of Carl presents a compulsive individual who turns out to be rather personable, even if his darker actions in the later part of the piece give rise to some consternation.

There's also terrific singing from Alyssa Martyn as Elena and general good work in the vocals department from the remainder of the strong cast.

The company of It Happened in Key West at Charing Cross Theatre

Black Wedding - The Company - photo by Darren Bell

Simple but effective staging includes overhanging Spanish moss and is augmented with well-crafted projections from video designer Louise Rhoades-Brown.

Presenting this kind of story in a musical format is undoubtedly a challenging exercise in terms of adopting the appropriate mood - which might account for the time spent on creating it.

The writers, though, have successfully struck the right chords both in terms of the pleasingly tuneful and memorable compositions, and the affectionately comic treatment of Carl and his darkly grim actions - even if they can't quite resist the temptation to introduce a dose of sentimentality in the show's final moments.

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