Monday, July 23, 2012
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 www.ProspectTheater.org; through July 29)
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