BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The most legendary among Cole Porter’s many musicals is “Nymph Errant,” a lavish 1933 London extravaganza that starred Gertrude Lawrence as a runaway schoolgirl gleaming amid risqué situations.
Although Porter thought that “Nymph Errant” was one of his finest scores – and it really is a beauty -- the show never reached Broadway. Since then, due to the daunting size of its cast and other considerations (more about which in a moment), the musical rarely has been staged anywhere.
An enjoyable “Nymph Errant” now arrives on Theater Row in a trim and inventive little revival by Prospect Theater Company, an enterprising troupe that often does well by the singular fare it produces.
A show strictly for Porter fans and/or musical theater buffs, “Nymph Errant” is a screwy, sketchy 1930s epic about Evangeline, a sweet English miss who leaves her Swiss finishing school and embarks upon some racy adventures around the Mediterranean.
More or less innocently beguiling a series of sexy men, Evangeline survives a Turkish massacre and even lands in a harem but somehow remains unsullied until she arrives home in her Oxford garden.
Such total frivolity is wedded to a sleek, ultra-sophisticated Porter score that yielded no major standards, although the melting “How Could We Be Wrong?” is a honey. Perhaps the best known songs are “The Physician,” one of Porter’s wackiest of laundry-list novelty numbers, and “The Cocotte,” a witty portrait of a disillusioned dame.
For this production, writer Rob Urbinati smartly edits and lightly tinkers with Romney Brent’s unwieldy libretto (based upon James Lever’s bestseller). The talky, episodic story still remains terribly silly stuff, but now at least it is bearable. The score has been augmented by four well-chosen songs from other Porter shows of the period. All told, this is a version that respects and resembles the original musical.
A key to the success of Urbinati’s concept is the casting of 10 actors mostly in multiple roles, in which their presence lends extra unity to the script’s far-flung doings. So the Tony Award-winning Cady Huffman vivaciously pops up as a bubbly chemistry teacher, a fading seductress, a rich American social-climber and an athletic lesbian.
Meanwhile, the roly-poly Sorab Wadia drolly portrays a French impresario, a German nudist, a Greek magnate and the chief eunuch of a harem. Additional gents who come and go among Evangeline’s escapades are comically handled by Abe Goldfarb, who serially plays an English vicar, a suicidal Russian, a Venetian nobleman and a Turkish marauder. Tall, handsome Andrew Brewer sturdily appears as an American sanitary engineer and the nice boy back home that haunts our heroine’s dreams.