Monday, July 23, 2012

Nymph Errant (Prospect Theater Company)


Harry Forbes

Even in a less than ideal production, it is rather marvelous that the Prospect is giving nearly a month-long’s airing to Cole Porter’s fascinating 1933 London show, one that, after petering out disappointingly in its original run, never made it to Broadway nor to the big screen, though Fox had purchased the film rights.

Based on a popular novel of the time by James Laver, the show was conceived as a vehicle for the great Gertrude Lawrence whose recordings of five of the numbers, supplemented by Elizabeth Welch’s show-stopping “Solomon,” have kept interest alive for all these decades. In the early 90s, an all-star London semi-staged concert resulted in a complete recording, albeit with inauthentic arrangements.

The production at hand – directed and choreographed by Will Pomerantz, and with orchestrations (for a five-piece band) by Frederick Alden Terry – is an adaptation by Rob Urbinati of Romney Brent’s libretto, which despite the delectable score and strong cast, came in for criticism for being episodic and lacking in a strong narrative. (This version was originally produced by Theatreworks in Colorado Springs.)

And indeed, the story of an innocent young lady fresh from finishing school who traverses the Continent in search of romance, encountering, in dizzying succession, a French impresario, a German nudist, a suicidal Russian composer, an Italian count, a wealthy Greek, a Turkish designer, and an American plumber, still meanders. But the score is basically intact (albeit with four interpolations from the Porter’s lesser-known songbook). And if the arrangements are perforce a bit rinky-dink, you get a reasonably good idea of how the show played out.

An Equity Library Theater revival in 1982 stuck closer to the original, if I recall correctly.

Here, Jennifer Blood does nicely with Evangeline (Eve), albeit minus Lawrence’s undoubted star wattage, and offers a sweet soprano and a properly demure manner, until desperation turns her into a would-be hussy.

The supporting cast shows versatility in multiple roles. Abe Goldfarb plays four, three of them Eve’s multi-cultural lovers. The equally versatile Sorab Wadia plays three other lovers, and a eunuch in a Turkish harem.

Broadway’s Cady Huffman gamely essays several parts, including the school’s chemistry teacher who enjoins her girls to “Experiment” in life, as indeed they do. Sara Jayne Blackmore, Laura Cook, Amy Jo Jackson, and Aubrey Sinn are Eve’s randy school chums whom she encounters at every turn in her world travels.

They’re a rather aggressive, overly hearty bunch, attributes that, in fact, define the production as a whole. Still, each of the ladies gets her own specialty number. Most impressive of these vocally is Blackmore who belts out “My Boyfriend Back Home” from “Fifty Million Frenchmen.”

Andrew Brewer plays Eve’s wholesome boyfriend back home, and as she goes platonically from lover to lover, he pops up to sing the cautionary “Dizzy Baby” (another interpolation).

Natalie E. Carter’s hot mama rendition of “Solomon” is entertaining enough – though her delivery is more blatantly raucous than Welch’s slyly exuberant original – but it was a mistake to give her Eve’s “The Physician,” and more puzzling still to have her in a nurse’s uniform when she’s the patient being examined by an amorous doctor who “loves every part of (her), and yet not (her) as a whole.”

Overall, I’d have preferred more finesse and charm, and less vulgarity and frenetic slapstick, but the Porter songs, including “It’s Bad for Me,” “How Could We Be Wrong?,” “Georgia Sand,” and “The Cocotte” are golden.

Pictured above: Jennifer Blood and Soria Wadia; Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

(Prospect Theater Company, the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row or by calling (212) 239-6200 or; through July 29)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Savages (Universal)

Director Oliver Stone is back in form with this violent, often gruesome screen version of Don Winslow’s novel. Winslow adapted the script with Shane Salerno and Stone. Former Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and peace-loving, ecologically minded Ben (Aaron Johnson) are best buds and, run a thriving drug business from their comfy Orange County house, sharing their bed with the beauteous O (short for Ophelia) (Blake Lively) who narrates in voice-over. When Mexican cartel drug lord Elena (Salma Hayek in one of her best roles) sends her minions to strike a deal with the boys and the latter try to ditch the business, Elena arranges for O to be kidnapped, prompting them to desperate measures to try and free her. Though you may wince at much of what transpires on screen, the film is undeniably gripping, and performances are excellent. Benicio Del Toro as Elena’s nasty-as-they-come deputy is genuinely frightening, and a beefy John Travolta is appropriately slimy as a corrupt Drug Enforcement agent. It’s a rough, exhausting ride, and not for the fainthearted, but expert filmmaking all the same.(Rated R by the MPAA for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout.) (Harry Forbes)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony)

This latest retread of Stan Lee’s familiar Spider-Man tale has a lot going for it, especially if you don’t mind sitting through the back story yet again of how nerdy, bullied high school student Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) comes to acquire his sticky, high-flying powers, and falls in love with fellow student Gwen (Emma Stone). The marvelous Welsh actor Rhys Ifans plays the doctor – former colleague of Parker’s late father (Campbell Scott) – whose experiments lead to Parker’s transformation. Garfield – so wonderfully sensitive in the recent Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman” -- gives a detailed, thoughtful performance in the James Dean mode. And his interaction with Stone has good chemistry. James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves’ script gives good measure to the human drama, along with the action sequences. Marc Webb directs both aspects with flair, and the special effects are very well done indeed. The 3D process, however, seems to me to add little to the experience. There’s nice work from Sally Field as Parker’s down-to-earth Aunt May, and Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben. Denis Leary also has some good moments the police captain out to capture the vigilante Spider-Man. (Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.) (Harry Forbes)

To Rome With Love (Sony Pictures Classics)

By Harry Forbes

Woody Allen raised his own bar with “Midnight in Paris,” and some have judged his latest as less good, but in my opinion, not so. This multi-strand story – a sort of homage to the Italian anthology films of the 1950s and 1960s where directors like Fellini or De Sica would contribute part or all of the vignettes in a particular film – is mostly a delight.

Unlike those native precursors, Allen’s four stories are interwoven. There’s American tourist Holly (Alison Pill) who falls for a lawyer. When Holly’s parents (Allen himself and Judy Davis) come over to meet their daughter’s fiancĂ© (Flavio Parenti), her opera-directing father discovers that the fiance’s father (Fabio Armilato) has a beautiful tenor, but (here’s the rub) only when he sings in the shower.

Architect John (Alec Baldwin) tries to locate the neighborhood he lived in as a youth, and discovers a version of his younger-self (Jesse Eisenberg) in love with fellow student Sally (Gerta Gerwig), and tempted to stray by Sally’s treacherous best friend (Ellen Page) visiting from the States.

In the most farcical piece, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), wife of Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) falls for a lecherous matinee idol (Antonio Albanese), while the former finds himself involved with a sexy call-girl (Penelope Cruz) who mistakenly shows up at his door.

And, in the most surreal, satiric episode, an office worker (winningly played by Roberto Benigni) suddenly becomes famous for no reason at all.

Thanks to Darius Khondji’s lensing, Rome looks as delectable as Paris did in the last film. Performances are all very good, even if Page is an odd choice as a seductress. And Allen is much better here than in his last on-screen role in “Scoop.”

(“To Rome With Love” is rated R by the MPAA for some sexual references.)