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Writer Ben Harrison tells the true story of Count von Cosel and Elena Hoyos, and a passion that defied death.
The richly reimagined, darkly humorous, true tale of the extreme lengths one man was willing to go for love. “Undying Love: A Key West Musical,” written by Ben Harrison, premiered February 14 at The Studios of Key West, and runs for a limited engagement of ten shows through March 3.
It was 1930 in Key West when radiologist Count von Cosel x-rayed the chest of his terminally-ill patient Elena Hoyos, setting in motion a series of bizarre events that would shock the world.
Author, musician, and playwright Ben Harrison first read about the strange love story back in the late 1980s when he was a musician working steady gigs at the Bull and Whistle and other legendary Duval Street watering holes. Though the story had been mostly forgotten at the time, von Cosel’s life (and death) obsession quickly caught Harrison’s imagination.
“Anyone who knows the story would agree that von Cosel was nuts, but what shocked me was the sympathetic reaction he got from the Key West community at the time,” says Harrison. “It’s important to keep in mind the time frame — the 1930s — and how isolated Key West was from mainland, due to the Great Depression and the hurricane of 1935 that destroyed Flagler’s Overseas’ Railroad.”
Working on a shoestring, Harrison produced a pared-down musical about the subject that premiered at the Applerouth Grill in Old Town over twenty years ago. Not long afterwards, he penned the definitive account of the macabre love story in his non-fiction book, “Undying Love,” which earned him a spot in front of national audiences on the Howard Stern Show, The Dick Cavett Show and This American Life.
Now, in response to great demand and thanks to the support of generous donors, the musical is being resurrected and will be staged as an original production in The Studios of Key West’s Helmerich Theater.
“The story was truly sensational at the time, and captured tabloid headlines around the world,” continued Harrison, “so this time around we’re giving it the treatment it deserves: a full-scale production with a professional cast of ten actors and a five-member orchestra, all staged on a gorgeous set with projections and historical photos that’ll take the audience straight back to the strange world of Key West in the 1930s.”
Harrison’s wry humor and flair for storytelling bring the colorful tale to life, and the production features over a dozen of his original tunes including “She Was Pickled and He Poked Her” alongside the haunting “La Boda Negra” (Black Wedding), which von Cosel claimed Elena sang to him from the crypt.
Led by Director Richard Grusin and Musical Director Larry Baeder, and starring Amber Good and Jamie Callahan and a crack ensemble of actors and musicians, “Undying Love” is the stranger than fiction tale of obsessive love, demented behavior and tropical mystery that you don’t want to miss. Opening night is sold out, but tickets for all other performances are on sale now at $55 VIP, $38 general admission, $30 members and can be purchased at tskw.org or by calling 305-296-0458.
This project is made possible in part by a grant from the Anne McKee Artists Fund and a grant from the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys.