Presented by and at Medicine Show Theatre, 549 W. 52 St., NYC, Jan. 22-Feb. 15.
This legendary 1933 Cole Porter show—originally produced in London, but never on Broadway—here receives a rare New York mounting (the show didn't make its NYC debut until 1982, at Off-Broadway's Equity Library Theatre). It's one of the better efforts of Barbara Vann's Medicine Show, no stranger to Porter musicals.
The story concerns a young woman, just out of school, taking an amorous tour of Europe, yet managing (to her growing chagrin) to keep her purity intact. Director Vann has left some of the racist dialogue intact for historical context, yet curiously has fiddled with the piece in other ways, including various interpolations.
The musical part of the evening gets off to a promising start with Beth Griffith's stylistically sound rendition of "Experiment," though her later attempt at "The Cocotte" is less satisfying, exemplifying the production's erratic quality.
As for the role originated by Gertrude Lawrence, it's hardly fair to expect Sarah Engelke to live up to that star's legendary luster. As it is, Engelke brings a sweet earnestness to the part, and sings decently. The dark-skinned Rée Andrews' first act blonde wig is incongruous to say the least, but when she reappears as a Pasha's concubine, she recreates Elizabeth Welch's "Solomon" with surprising aplomb.
Alex Bilu is really fine in three roles, while, vocally, Bridget Harvey, Michael Ruby, Colleen Quigley, John McConnel, Richard DeDomenico, and Griffith deliver the goods. Sterling Price McKinney gives fine support at the keyboard.
In spite of a shoestring budget, Uta Bekaia's costumes and Knox Martin and Mark Gering's sets prove effective. And Margot Mink Colbert and Kevin Clayborn's choreography creatively sidesteps the small playing area.
For all its flaws, this production provides a golden opportunity to hear some of Porter's best songs in context. You may have to work hard to picture how this once played at the Adelphi Theatre, but Vann's plucky effort gets you more than halfway there.