Sunday, 15 July 2012

Cole Porter's NYMPH ERRANT

     There's a fair amount of musical theater legend surrounding Cole Porter's musical, NYMPH ERRANT (Book by Mexican born, American actor, director, writer Romney Brent based on a novel by James Laver). It was produced in London in 1933 starring Gertrude Lawrence and ran for 156 performances (hardly a hit). It was never produced on Broadway though Porter thought it his best score. There has only been one album of the score, from a concert in the 1980s at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane with each number turned into a solo star turn for the likes of Lisa Kirk, Alexis Smith, Maureen McGovern and Elizabeth Welch (singing "Solomon" as she did in 1933). The album gives some sense of how good the score is and how absolutely brilliant the lyrics are. The Prospect Theater Company's production at the tiny Harold Clurman Theater is an attempt to present the show with its original score intact -- even including some numbers cut from the original London production. The book has been revised, but not in any sense to updated -- only to give it more coherence. The production, directed by Will Pomeranz, gives us an appreciation for what a great score Porter wrote.
      NYMPH ERRANT is, as the title suggests, a picaresque show about a young woman's sexual experimentation. Evangeline (or Eve) (Jennifer Blood) has just finished British boarding school and is in love with the gardener on the family estate (Andrew Brewer), but is reluctant to marry him until she sees a bit of the world. The script takes her to a French seaside resort, Paris, Venice, a Turkish harem, back to Paris and finally home to marry the gardener. Along the way she comes to realize that she wants sex as much as love, but sex seems to be hard to find. Indeed, the running joke of the show is that men all over the world fall for Eve, but don't want to bed her. Porter has spiced this nonsensical fable with brilliant, risqué patter songs and lovely ballads. He was right to consider it his best score. The revised book moves the show along and gives some context for the songs. Still, I thought the production could do with even less talk.
      Here the music is played by an accomplished five piece band and sung well by a mostly young, very talented cast. Jennifer Blood looks at least a decade past eighteen, but has the kind of small, wiry lyric voice that Gertrude Lawrence had. The rest of the cast play multiple roles. Andrew Brewer is the best singer in the cast and is charming (and lovely to look at) as the gardener and the plumber who gets to sing Porter's silly hymn to "Plumbing" (all the male characters Eve encounters are more in love with their professions than women). As the gardener, Brewer also gets to sing a song I have never heard before, the lovely ballad, "Dizzy Baby." The two older actors who played Eve's male admirers were anything but seductive. It was a mistake to make them total clowns. I think we had to feel that they were part of Eve's sexual education -- that they were tempting. In this production, there was no question Eve would go back to the gardener. Four young women play Eve's school chums. They all have a lot of stage presence and sing well. Veteran star Cady Huffman has a lot of older female roles, but doesn't make as much of them as I had hoped she would. In fact, she's the weakest performer in the production. In general, this is a cast brimming with talent, and Pomeranz has staged the production deftly with a tiny budget and on a tiny stage.
      I very much looked forward to seeing NYMPH ERRANT and wasn't the least bit disappointed.
NYMPH ERRANT. The Clurman on Theater Row. July 15, 2002.

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