Cole Porter's biographers invariably list Kiss Me Kate, Anything Goes and Out of This World as his best scores, but Porter himself had one show that he always maintained was his own personal favorite: Nymph Errant. Porter’s choice is hardly known today, but in 1933 it represented the last word in “star vehicle” musical theatre writing. We presented it at Moon in 1998, and are delighted to bring it back as the opening show of our “Going Places” season. If ever a show “went places,” it’s Nymph Errantl
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 was looking for a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence - flamboyant, outrageous, and one of Broadway and London’s brightest stars. He thought Nymph Errant was a perfect fit.
Cochran quickly enlisted Cole Porter, who was coming off a string of Broadway hits including Gay Divorce, The New Yorkers and Fifty Million Frenchmen. Porter brought along his pal, raconteur/actor/director Romney Brent, to write the book and direct. The writing process proved particularly 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.
Following an out-of-town run in Manchester (where the title song was added), Nymph Errant debuted to one of the biggest, most glamorous opening nights London 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 dazzling laundry-list of body parts, “The Physician” and Elisabeth Welch’s exhilaratingly abandoned delivery of “Solomon.”
Although there were some critical cavils about the extremely frank nature of the book, Gertrude Lawrence and the Porter score were met with acclaim, and the show settled in as London’s latest hit. After a few months, Lawrence’s financial and health problems (she was suffering from exhaustion) led to an early closing for Nymph. Fox Films planned, and then abandoned, a movie version, and a New York transfer never materialized. (Porter immediately followed Nymph with his biggest hit yet, Anything Goes.)
Nothing more was heard from Nymph Errant until a sequence from the show was performed in the 1968 Julie Andrews biography of Lawrence, Star! The American premiere was a workshop presentation by New York’s Equity Library Theatre in 1982. London saw a major concert evening of the songs in 1987 with Lisa Kirk, Alexis Smith, Kaye Ballard, Andrea McArdle, and, amazingly, Elisabeth Welch, singing the song she had introduced 55 years earlier, “Solomon.”
A new, rewritten version of Nymph Errant was performed at the Chichester Festival in England in 1999. It’s unlikely that the show will enjoy a Broadway production anytime in the near future, but the original 1933 version (which we are presenting tonight) 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 songs.