a play with music in two acts by Romney Brent adapted from the novel by James Laver. Lyrics and music by Cole Porter. Produced at the Opera House, Manchester 11 September, 1933 under the management of C. B. Cochran for three weeks.
Opened at the Adelphi Theatre 6 October, 1933
for a run of 154 performances closing 17 February, 1934.
Produced at the Equity Library Theatre, New York 11 March, 1982 for a season to 4 April,1982.
Concert performance Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London - 21 May, 1989
Scene 1 is set in the present (1933) in the garden of Aunt Ermyntrude's house in north Oxford. At rise, Winnie the maid is arranging tea service on a little table, when Edith Sandford, dressed in a Girl Guide uniform, enters through the gate. A spinster of about forty, Miss Sandford is concerned that Aunt Ermyntrude is becoming quite forgetful. Winnie observes that she saw the old woman soaping herself in her bath while fully clothed. Plump Aunt Ermyntrude enters with a watering can and reveals that she has invited to tea the Reverend Malcolm Pither, who runs a questionable hostel for English chorus girls in Paris, and Edith's father, Dr. Sandford, a venerable Oxford don.
At tea, Aunt Ermyntrude explains that her niece Evangeline Edwards is expected to return in one week from her Swiss school, the Pensionnat Bellevue, in Lausanne, of which Ermyntrude herself is an alumna. When Edith learns that Evangeline plans to return alone by train, she is shocked: "I don't approve of women travelling on the Continent. To me immorality begins on the dock at Calais.... I always say to my Girl Guides: 'Learn one language: English. And if you have the misfortune some day to have to travel on the Continent, keep on speaking English, only speak louder.' "
Pither regards this as an expression of "abysmal ignorance," and Edith's own father agrees, much to her annoyance. Pither is determined to find a young, attractive woman who can travel unmolested by train on the Continent and will "bring her here and parade her under your very nose, that her virginal fragrance may dispel the musty, antiquated fumes of your mind." He storms out.
Scene 2 is Evangeline's bedroom at school. We meet her chums: Bertha,a blonde German girl; Joyce Arbuthnot-Palmer, a hearty English girl, very country; Henrietta Bamberg, an American brunette with abroad mid-western accent; and Madeleine, a vivacious French beauty. Finally, we meet Evangeline, in her dressing gown and slippers. She is young, unwise in the ways of the world, and frantic to pack her bags for a train that leaves for Calais in a little more than an hour. The girls all speculate on what the future holds for them. A knock on the door heralds the entrance of their tall and prim English chemistry teacher, Miss Pratt, who promptly offers some scientific advice on life: "Experiment."
Scene 3 is a railway carriage, into which Evangeline scrambles while Miss Pratt hands her some baggage from the platform and reminds her to experiment. The compartment is already occupied by André de Croissant, a handsome, middle-aged Frenchman. Evangeline quietly reads a book, until she realises that she cannot locate her train ticket. She frantically searches for it. The gallant Gallic graciously offers her an extra ticket, which he had purchased for a companion who missed the train. When she tells him that she is returning to Oxford to live with her aunt, André has a better idea. He explains that he owns the famous Folies de Paris and in one season can make her a cabaret star. She admits that she can sing and dance a little and, taking her cue from Miss Pratt, decides to experiment.
The two are joined by Mme. Celestine Arthur, a fashion designer, and her meek, sappy son Hercule. André tells them he is planning to 'visit the seaside resort of Neauvillewith Evangeline, whom he hopes to induce to appear in his Folies. Mme. Arthur says that she and her son are also going there, to display her summer creations. All at once, Hercule begins to exhibit one frock after another. Evangeline giddily agrees to take five dresses and a hat and offers her hand to André, who kisses it. The experiment apparently has begun.
Scene 4 is a colonnade overlooking the beach at "Neauville-sur-Mer." Mme. Arthur and Hercule meet Count Hohenadelborn Mantalini and a morbid Russian, Alexei Stukin. Alexei conducts the hotel orchestra and has fallen in love with Evangeline from afar. They are joined by Clarissa Parks, a cocotte, whose profession is suffering from competition with society women whose morals have sunk to the depth of hers. Evangeline is startled to be reunited with her old friend Madeleine, who, it seems, was supported all through school by a gentleman with whom she has now had a final row. Evangeline tells Madeleine that while en route to Oxford, she met André who wants to star her in his revue and, while waiting for her decision, is treating her as if he were her father. When Evangeline refuses André's offer, she finds herself being wooed by both the Count, who offers to take her to his Venetian palazzo (which is currently being rented to wealthy Americans), and Alexei, who suggests that they either commit suicide together or go to Paris. When Evangeline spies André on a balcony with Madeleine, she at once agrees to pack her bag.
Scene 5. At a cafe in Paris, we learn that Alexei and Evangeline are almost starving, because he cannot get work as a violinist. Determined to find a job for herself, Evangeline goes up to a woman reading a newspaper and discovers that she is another old chum, Joyce, who now lives with a painter named Pierre Fort. When Evangeline explains how hungry they are, Pierre says he will give them money just as soon as his wealthy customer shows up and buys some of his paintings. Just then, the customer appears: it is the Count. At once, Evangeline rises and says, "Venice." The Count reiterates, "Venice." They exit arm in arm, as the others look on in bewilderment.
Scene 6. In the garden of the Palazzo Mantalini in Venice, Manfredo the major domo, Bessie the maid, the chief gondolier, Clara the fat cook, a kitchen maid, and Giuseppe the footman all are exhausted, because their American employers are obsessively social.
The Count has let the house to Mrs. Samuel Lee Bamberg and her daughter Henrietta, yet another schoolmate. The wealthy, social-climbing Mrs. Bamberg is throwing an 1830 costume party and shows the Count her invitation list. It includes Constantine Koumoundouropolos, a Greek businessman whose huge yacht is out in the harbour. Mrs. Bamberg has obviously decided that her daughter will marry a rich European, but the Count is interested in the fact that the Bambergs themselves have money.
When the guests arrive, Henrietta entertains them with a song about the famous writer "Georgia Sand," who shocked her lover by dressing like a man. The Count enters with Evangeline, who is startled to discover Henrietta. They go off to chat, leaving the Count and Constantine. The Count offers to give the Greek his beautiful companion to take away on his yacht, so that he himself can pursue Henrietta. Later, Evangeline is taken aback when Constantine offers to take her to the Orient on his yacht. When Henrietta announces her betrothal to the Count, Evangeline laughs hysterically, wildly sings "Nymph Errant," and shocks the Count by toddling off on Constantine's arm.
Scene 1, a section of the Acropolis by moonlight. A quartet of tourists bemoans the fact that wherever they travel abroad, they are shown nothing but "Ruins." Constantine has brought Evangeline to Athens to show her the historic city, and they chance to meet an old friend of his, Demetrios Pappas, who runs a home for unfortunate girls who have lost their "sense of proportion." His efficient German secretary turns out to be none other than Bertha; she had travelled to Greece with an archeologist who has since died. Bertha tells Evangeline that Pappas treats her just like a wife, but Evangeline bemoans the fact that all the men in her life "are either idealists or very tired businessmen."
Scene 2. In the small bedroom of Constantine's house in Smyrna, Evangeline paces nervously while waiting for him to return from buying her a dress. Outside, a volley of shots is heard: the Turks are sacking the city. When Constantine knocks on the outside door, his frightened servant Feliza lets him in and then flees for safety. Constantine shows Evangeline the dress that he risked his life to bring her, but she finds it unwearable. Hysterically, he runs to the window, to discover that his warehouse has been set on fire. He rushes outside to protect his property. From the window, Evangeline looks on in horror as he is shot and killed by the Turks. Just then, the door flies open, and in strides the fierce, murderous Kassim Mahmud Ben Hadji, who "bristles with weapons but unfortunately for him is "under five feet tall." When he discovers that Evangeline is British, he offers to take her to the British consulate for two piastras or for a tour of the local statuary. Offended that the slave trader finds her unacceptable for slavery, Evangeline offers to pay him two thousand piastras for a two-day camel ride to the nearby slave market. She leads him out.
Scene 3 is the open court of a harem in a remote province of Turkey. Like the other concubines, Evangeline is dressed in great Oriental splendour, but she is knitting a sock and is very bored. Ali, the resident eunuch, explains that he speaks English perfectly, because he studied at Oxford (and he met his master at Eton). His employer is currently away as the Turkish delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva, but he has promised to return "when universal peace is restored." When the corpulent Ali asks Evangeline if she has ever been in love, she responds that once in school she had measles. Ali then produces a new addition to the harem, a young American Negress named Haidee Robinson, who wanted to see the world and has done so. When Zuleika, one of the concubines, begins to wail in her monotonous chant, Haidee ridicules her by imitating her wail and then launching into a song of her own.
After the song, Evangeline and Haidee exit. No sooner have they gone, than one of the flagstones that pave the court begins to move. The concubines all shriek in horror and race off, as a handsome, young American, Ben Winthrop, pulls himself up from a hole in the ground. Evangeline enters, and Ben explains that the owner of this palace hired him to install a brand new plumbing system. He is quite prepared to rescue her: "I guess we'll have to walk for half a mile through the sewer and there I have a Ford waiting." When Ali suddenly appears, Ben places ten piastras in his hand to buy his silence.
Scene 4. The desert. Evangeline and Ben celebrate the joys of being free. In the fashion of stalwart storybook heroes, Ben professes that he will preserve Evangeline's purity: he will place her the following day on the Paris express at Istanbul, and in three days she will be with friends in the French capital. When she complains of a headache and asks him to rub her temples, he offers her two aspirins. He finally agrees to massage her head, but, when she asks him to sing a "lovely languid sort of serenade," he responds with a heartfelt homage to his one truelove: "Plumbing." Giving upon any hope for romance, Evangeline rises from the ground and suggests they be off.
Scene 5 is a harem set on the stage
of the Folies de Paris. André is hysterical, because Madeleine
is late as usual for her entrance during a rehearsal. When she finally
appears, she and the girls rehearse their routine.
Just then, Reverend Pither and Miss Pratt (of all people) enter with two English girls, who are going to audition as a dance team. Evangeline appears, to André's surprise, and is reunited with Miss Pratt. The chemistry teacher explains that after the school closed, she came to Paris to study at the Sorbonne and one day met Mr. Pither. He asked her to be a matron in his hostel for chorus girls, and then she married him.
Evangeline then informs Miss Pratt of all the trouble her advice has caused: Bertha is in Athens, living in sin, "Joyce took up quarters with a painter," Henrietta married "a dear old white slaver"; only Madeleine has become a star, while she, Evangeline, is "just a girl no man wants." Elated that he has at last found an English girl who can travel the Continent unmolested, Pither agrees to escort Evangeline back to Oxford the very next day. She is undecided, when André invites her to stay and join the show. Miss Pratt begs her to redeem the fate of the other girls and return home.
Scene 6, Evangeline, Miss Pratt and Pither find themselves in front of a curtain at the Folies. Evangeline decides to stay, until André informs her that their relationship will be strictly business, and she will live with the Pithers at their hostel. At once, she agrees to return to Oxford.
Scene 7 is Aunt Ermyntrude's garden
in Oxford. As at the opening of the play, Winnie is setting the table
for tea; she is chatting with the good-looking young gardener, Joe, whom
Aunt Ermyntrude, as confused as ever, continues to call Henry, despite
all his corrections. Edith Sandford enters, still wearing her uniform.
She reminds her hostess that it is one year to the day since Evangeline
was expected back from school.
When Pither escorts the girl into the garden, her aunt's only comment is "You're a little late, dear," to which the dutiful niece responds," Dear Aunty. Yes, you see I stopped on the way from the station to buy you your favourite tea cakes." Pither proudly proclaims to Edith that Evangeline has indeed travelled alone unmolested.
When everyone else exits, Evangeline quietly sings a reprise of "Experiment." On her line, "the apple on the top of the tree," Joe comes to her, offering an apple, as the curtain falls.
© 1990 by Miles Kreuger
Note: This synopsis was derived from an original 1933 script given by Cole Porter to Miles Kreuger.
(in order of appearance) - doubled roles shown
- Overture (Orchestra)
- Experiment (Mrs Pratt and chorus)
- It's Bad for Me (Evangeline)
- Neauville-sur-Mer (Chorus)
- The Cocotte (Clarissa)
- How Could We Be Wrong? (Evangeline and Chorus)
- They're Always Entertaining (Chorus)
- Georgia Sand (Henrietta and Chorus)
- Nymph Errant (Evangeline and company)
- Ruins (Chorus)
- The Physician (Evangeline)
- Solomon (Haidee)
- Back to Nature with You (Evangeline and Ben)
- Plumbing (Ben)
- Si vous aimez les poitrines (Madeleine and chorus)
- You're Too Far Away (Alexei)
- Sweet Nudity (Girls and Boys - with soloists)
- My Louisa (not used)
- Cazanova (Henrietta)
- Concert Finale: Experiment (The Company)