Nymph Errant (1933) - 1998 Staged Concert Production


Nymph Errant (1933)

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Romney Brent
From the Novel by James Laver

Directed by Greg MacKellan
Musical Director: Brandon Adams
Choreographer: Berle Davis

Playbill Notes

Cole Porter's biographers various list Kiss Me Kate, Jubilee, Anything Goes, or Out of this World as his best work, but Porter himself had one score that he always maintained was his own personal favorite: Nymph Errant. Porter's choice is hardly known today, but in 1933 it represented le fin du fin in "star vehicle" musical theatre writing.

Nymph Errant was originally a wildly successful 1932 novel by James Laver which chronicled the adventures of a young Englishwoman named Evangeline Edwards, who makes a rather eccentric tour of the world. British producer Charles Cochran saw the book as a West End musical vehicle for stage luminary Gertrude Lawrence and set about securing the services of Lawrence's old friend and acting partner, Noel Coward, to adapt and direct. When Coward proved unavailable Cochran turned to the American equivalent: Cole Porter.

Porter, having already composed songs for Lawrence to sing in the 1929 talkie Here Comes the Bandwagon was delighted to enlist, and he was joined by raconteur/actor/director Romney Brent who would write the book and direct. The writing process proved particularily harmonious, as novelist Laver and librettist Brent joined Porter at his Paris town-house for writing sessions marked in equal measure by hard work, laughter, and champagne breaks.

By late summer, 1933, the piece was ready, and the try-out began in September in Manchester. The show had such a starry pedigree that many London socialites made the trip for the out-of-town opening. (Perhaps they were also lured by the hint of scandal, for rumor had it-and those who had read the novel knew-that the piece was exceptionally racy and frank in dealing with sexual matters.) The usual "on the road" changes were made-including the addition of a title song, and the replacement of two actors-but basically the show was sound, and came into London on Oct. 6th for one of the biggest, most glamorous opening nights the city had ever seen. "Experiment," "How Could We Be Wrong," and "It's Bad For Me" were hailed as Porter's newest hit tunes, but the showstoppers that night were Lawrence's amusing laundry-list of body parts, "The Physician" and Elisabeth Welch's exhiliratingly abandoned delivery of "Solomon."

Gertrude Lawrence and the Porter score were met with acclaim, and the critics consensus was that a new hit had arrived (although there were some reservations about the frank quality of the book and the hedonistic nature of Lawrence's character). Sadly like many other shows in the depression-era a run of five months was all the show could muster. Lawrence's financial and health problems (she was suffering from exhaustion) precluded a New York run, and Fox Films planned-and then abandoned-a movie version.

Nothing more was heard from Nymph Errant until a sequence from the show was performed in the 1968 Julie Andrews bio-pic of Lawrence, Star! There was a brief flurry of interest in a possible revival, but a New York mounting once again fell through. Finally, the Equity Library Theatre in New York, a small off-broadwy showcase group, presented the American premiere in 1982. A major concert evening of the songs was presented in London in 1987 with Lisa Kirk, Alexis Smith, Kaye Ballard, Maureen McGovern, Andrea McArdle, Larry Kert, and Elizabeth Welch (singing the song she had introduced, "Solomon") among those putting over Porter's tunes, and a Canadian production at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival was mounted in the wake of the concert's success.

There is talk once again of a "new version" of Nymph Errant and a reading was recently held in New York. It's unlikely that the show will enjoy a Broadway production anytime in the near future, but the original version still exists to remind us of Laver's blithely ingenuous heroine and her amatory odyssey. Brent's cunning wit and of course, Porter's supremacy at writing droll, emotional and gloriously melodic "show tunes."

Plot Summary

Evangeline Edwards is a young still-naive English woman, newly graduated from the Pensionnat Bellevue, a finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland. The prim chemistry teacher Mrs. Pratt tells Evangeline and her friends Henrietta and Madeline to "Experiment."

Press Release

SAN FRANCISCO (22 September 1998) -- San Francisco-based 42nd Street Moon adds Nymph Errant to its collection of lost musicals, a show Cole Porter himself felt was one of his best. Rarely performed since its 1933 London opening, Porter,s racy musical follows a young Englishwoman's worldwide search for romance and adventure (as well as somewhat more earthly pleasures). The score includes such saucy songs as "Experiment, "It,s Bad For Me, and "The Physician, all replete with delightfully naughty double entendres. Nymph Errant, presented in concert version by 42nd Street Moon, proves that art deco-era musicals were every bit as risqué as their pre-Code film counterparts, and reunites audiences with several 42nd Street Moon favorites along the way. Nymph Errant will play October 28 through November 15 (press opening: October 29) at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco: tickets may be purchased by calling 415/861-8972.

Nymph Errant, the fifth production in 42nd Street Moon,s "DELICIOUS DAMES OF BROADWAY! season, follows young Evangeline Edwards who is just graduating from finishing school in Switzerland and returning to Oxford to live with her maiden aunt. Taking her schoolmistress, parting advice -- "Experiment -- to heart, however, she instead elects to travel with a French revue producer, which leads her to romantic adventures with a variety of men in Paris, Athens, Venice, and a Turkish harem. Along the way she finds several of her schoolmates who have chosen the less virtuous life and, despite her best efforts, she eventually reaches Oxford as virginal as she left it (although perhaps not for long).

This delightfully wicked story was originally a book by the same name, by acclaimed author James Laver, which was received with critical acclaim, popular success, and religious and moral indignation. Britain,s greatest theatrical producer at the time, Charles B. Cochran, was given the book by his wife while on a business trip to Berlin to take his mind off theater; the savvy gent immediately saw its stage potential and purchased the option. Cochran chose Romney Brent, the centerpiece of London society and an equal wit in four languages, to adapt the novel to the stage and direct the production. Brent worked with Cole Porter for several months on the collaboration, living most of the time in the same house and meeting daily. This unusually close partnership reaped great benefits for the show; in fact, Cole Porter called this his best score, and Romney Brent,s book the best he ever set to music. In a happy turn of events, Brent contacted a former sweetheart, Margaret de Mille, to learn that her sister, Agnes, was just beginning her career as a dancer and choreographer. Agnes de Mille was brought in to choreograph Nymph Errant and, despite the fact that only four of the eight chorus girls had any dance experience, she eventually trained them to an astonishing level that would presage her revolutionary lifelong contribution to musical theater.

As opening date for the original production drew closer, tensions and expectations rose. Worried that the play's racy nature would cause a ban on its production, Cochran struck a deal with the censor: in exchange for the censor's passing the rest of the script, he agreed to remove a scene set in a German nudist colony (and its attendant song, "Sweet Nudity). The Fox Film Corporation broke precedent by purchasing the screen rights to the show one week before it opened (although the film was never made and the rights never released). Finally, Nymph Errant opened in 1933, starring Gertrude Lawrence as Evangeline. Although reviews for the score and for Lawrence were generally full of praise, several critics expressed disdain for the independent and unrestrained nature of the leading female. Even today, Nymph Errant is nearly unique, a musical written without a love interest or a sole leading man. 42nd Street Moon's production will be only the second American production to date; the only other production was mounted Off-Broadway in 1982.

42nd Street Moon,s production of Nymph Errant stars many of 42nd Street Moon audiences, favorites, including Caroline Altman (Fanyy, Jubilee, Goodtime Charley) as Evangeline. Also featured will be 42nd Street Moon co-founder Stephanie Rhoades (Silk Stockings, Something for the Boys, Something Sort of Grandish), Steve Rhyne (Something for the Boys, Do i Hear a Waltz?), Steve Patterson (Redhead, Something for the Boys), Paula Sonenberg (Girl Crazy, Roberta), Amy Cole, Donna Cima, George Quick, Sara Clark, Anandah Carter, Lianne Marie Dobbs, John McWhorter, Tom Jermain, and Corey Schaffer. Nymph Errant will be directed by 42nd Street Moon co-founder Greg MacKellan, with music direction by Brandon Adams, and choreography by Berle Davis.