As the play opens, Whitelaw Savory, at his Foundation of Modern Art, has been stubbornly carrying on for nine years his crusade to bring True Art to the ignorant masses. His latest acquisition, a three-thousand-year-old statue of the goddess Venus imported from Anatolia, was made not on aesthetic principle but for personal reasons. A barber named Rodney Hatch decides while waiting to shave Savory to try something funny with his engagement ring and finds out to his surprise that this Venus is more than a statue.
It was made into a 1948 movie starring Ava Gardner, which retained few of the show's songs and even less of its dialogue. That movie, in turn, was remade in the 1980's as the Kim Cattrall vehicle Mannequin.
Tropes used in the show:
- Catch the Conscience: The song "Dr. Crippen" is intended to pressure Rodney into confessing to the murder of his fiancee. Since he didn't murder his fiancee, no confession results.
- Dark Reprise: Rodney's embittered reprise of "How Much I Love You".
- Disposable Fiancé: Venus makes short work of Gloria Kramer, Rodney Hatch's betrothed.
- Dream Ballet: "Venus in Ozone Heights" imagines Venus married to Rodney in Stepford Suburbia.
- Leitmotif: Venus's theme recurs several times.
- Living Statue: A statue of Venus comes to life.
- Murder Ballad: "Dr. Crippen", the Act I finale, tells the story of the real-life murderer.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Fabulously rich art patron Whitelaw Savory is more than a bit like fabulously rich art patron Nelson Rockefeller, trustee and sometime president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
- The One That Got Away: Savory is obsessed with the Venus statue because it reminds him of a lost love.
- Please Put Some Clothes On: The prudish Rodney Hatch is appalled by Venus's initial not-extensively-dressed appearance.
- Sassy Secretary: Molly Grant, Savory's secretary, always has a one-liner ready and gets the racy title song.
- Stepford Suburbia: Rodney Hatch can't wait to move into one of these, singing a whole song ("Waiting for a Wooden Wedding") about how delightfully boring and predictable it will be. This becomes the tipping point for Venus, our protagonist, who realizes during the song just how awful life with Rodney might be.
- (Props to the creative team, by the way, for using this trope so early. The show opened in 1943, just as suburbia was starting to become a recognizable concept.)