Of Errant Nymphs and Bloody Kings

BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE | The Cole Porter musical, “Nymph Errant,” is the story of Evangeline Edwards, a young girl who is freed from finishing school and intends to return to staid, old Albion to settle down with her maiden aunt and marry the man she loves. She gets sidetracked and travels through Europe and the Middle East where she encounters her classmates who are enjoying their newfound freedom and post-baccalaureate sexual awakening. Handed from nightclub producer to nudist to sheik, Evangeline finally arrives home with, for all her efforts otherwise, her virtue intact, but her spirit champing at the bit.

In its day, this silly implausibility was greeted with moral outrage and tremendous popular success. It was also red meat to Porter, who fashioned one of his most lighthearted and charming scores around the tale. It was a hit in London in 1933, but never made it to Broadway, and is probably best known to theater fans who revel in the obscure.

The Prospect Theater Company deserves respect for taking a chance on the show, but the labored production at the diminutive Clurman Theater does this show no favors. That the musicians take up half the stage renders the production even more clumsy. The score is a collection of specialty comic numbers that include the regrets of an aging prostitute (“The Cocotte”), required Porter digs at boorish tourists (“They’re Always Entertaining,” “Ruins”), a catalog of all the alluring parts of the body from the patella to the “lymphatics” (“The Physician”) and my favorite about a cross-dressing disaster (“Georgia Sand”). Each of these songs reveals another sexual frustration for Evangeline and sends her on the road again searching for love, or a more athletic facsimile.

Will Pomerantz, who directed and choreographed, has missed the irony that characterizes the songs and is so much a part of Porter’s take on sex and morality. Where the show should bubble and be titillating and naughty, it’s straightforward, bland, and lacking all sexiness. He borrowed the chair dancing by girls in their undies from “Chicago,” but it has no edge, and we’ve seen it before. His cast is reasonably good, but Jennifer Blood as Evangeline is uneven. At times her singing is unsupported, often weak, and seemingly beyond her as a singer and actress, particularly on the big tap number “Georgia Sand” that falls flat. (If you want to hear how that song should be done, find Andrea McArdle’s recording from the late 1980s.)

The show really bogs down in the performance of Cady Huffman, who plays all the older women. In the big songs, she mugs, belts, and strains in her upper register, all the while never landing the laughs. It’s a disappointment.

Somewhat better is the performance by Natalie E. Carter, who is brassy and bawdy but doesn’t have the technique for the long and deceptively complex song “Solomon,” which is sung while Evangeline is plotting her escape from a harem in which she is held captive. It was the only moment when I could relate to what was happening on stage.

Tom Gualtieri in “That Play: A Solo Macbeth.”

Shakespeare is often victimized by gimmickry. The crimes done to The Bard over the years have been legion, so the prospect of enduring 90 minutes of one actor playing all the parts in “Macbeth” raised red flags. Happily, in the first five minutes of “That Play: A Solo Macbeth,” I was waving a white flag and surrendered to the artistry, charm, and humor of Tom Gualtieri who, along with Heather Hill, has cut Shakespeare’s shortest play down to its greatest moments and interspersed them with commentary and audience interaction.

It is an insightful and moving commentary on political power, intrigue, and ambition. These themes are in the original, but Gualtieri’s asides and interplay with the audience give them a contemporary feel. Gualtieri is masterful playing each part with clarity and specificity. He manages the range of outsized emotions that characterize Shakespeare’s bloody play, but remains endearing and charming as himself. All of this might seem a bit precious if Gualtieri wasn’t so convincing. His intensity is mesmerizing and his understanding of the language is impressive. The result is more exciting and engaging than many full productions of “That Play” I’ve endured. This is an absolute delight.

NYMPH ERRANT | Clurman Theatre | 410 W. 42nd Street | Tue., Wed. at 7:30 p.m.; | Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $50-$65 | 212-239-6200 or www.prospecttheater.org

THAT PLAY | Stage Left Studio | 214 W. 30th St. 6th Floor | Schedule Varies through November 19| $25 | Tickets and Information www.stageleftstudio.net