Adapting 1930′s farce for 2012Friday, July 6th, 2012
by Josh Marmer
Alum Rob Urbinati tackles Cole Porter’s little-known Nymph Errant
Thinking of Cole Porter brings to mind shows like Kiss Me Kate and Anything Goes, filled with raunchy humor, sex appeal, and wacky jests. Audiences are left laughing and questioning social taboos associated with relationships and sex. In adapting Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant, which will be playing the Clurman Theater at Theater Row July 7 – 29, Directors Project alum Rob Urbinati plans to bring out that “good old Porter charm” in one of Porter’s lesser-known shows.
Urbinati is no stranger to adaptations – he previously tackled such works as Mary McCarthy’s short story Cruel & Barbarous Treatment and West Moon Street, based on an Oscar Wilde novella. One of the challenges he faced while creating this particular adaptation, however, was working with a play almost no one had heard of. In order to combat potential audience disconnect from the work, he originally wrote an entire new libretto for a production of Nymph Errant at THEATREWORKS in Colorado.
When Cara Reichel, a fellow Directors Project alum and Producing Artistic Director of Prospect Theater Company, convinced him to bring the show toNew York, the Cole Porter Trust had strict restrictions for adaptations. He had to reinstate the entire score and could only add four new songs, max.
After revisiting the play, however, Urbinati said he quickly warmed to the idea of guidelines. “I became attracted to the restrictions that the Cole Porter Trust put on me. They were right that the original score was deeply connected in a way that shouldn’t be ignored. This would give me an opportunity to introduce audiences to a whole selection of original Cole Porter songs that they have never heard before. We even added some scenes that Cole Porter wanted to use in the original show but couldn’t due to heavy censorship.”
When asked what first attracted him to Nymph Errant, Urbinati replied, “When you look at the score it is very naughty. It has a very Porter feel to it, and it calls into question the idea of sexual love versus romantic love. Do we pursue adventure at all cost, or is it better be reserved and save yourself?”
Tackling such questions is what makes this project so exciting for Urbinati. While adapting the work, he said one of the greatest challenges was trying to strike a balance between “sexuality that is pushing the line but is also not out of place for the time period, which in this case is the 1930’s.” Even Porter’s simplest lines can be read as dirty little jokes, but they always retain a sense of class.
During his time, many of Porter’s plays were considered a bit too provocative for audiences, and many of his works never received the acclaim he desired. Porter said that, “Nymph Errant has the greatest score I have ever written,” but few people had the privilege of hearing it.
Now, nearly 80 years later, audiences flock to see theater made to push the envelope. Thanks to artists like Urbinati, the voice of a legend who liked to “shake things up a bit” can finally be appreciated in all its glory.