The story begins when Jupiter, the father of the Greek gods on Mt. Olympus, develops a passion for an American woman named Helen. Unfortunately, she has just been married to ace reporter Art O’Malley who is on the track of Chicago gangster Niki Skolianos now living in Greece. While Juno, Jupiter’s wife, searches for him in all his usual haunts, Mercury, their son, travels to New York to meddle in the O’Malley affairs.
When Art get the assignment to go to Athens and interview Niki, Mercury arranges for Helen to be included in the travel plans and have her honeymoon in Greece. Delivering them to Niki’s Arcadia Inn, fixer Mercury’s next problem is to spirit Art away so that Jupiter can woo her in the guise of her husband. Among the subplots are that Juno falls for Niki (thinking he is Jupiter in his latest disguise) and Niki’s boy-crazy niece Chloe falls for Mercury.
Initially based on Plautus’ Roman comedy, Amphitryon, Out of This World is an uneasy mix of 1950’s slang and idiom, and classic Greek themes handled in a jokey manner. One of the major problems with the show is finding the right style for this broad-winking sex farce. After she was fired, Agnes De Mille stated that if she had more time she would have directed the show in “a mock heroic style.” Musicals Tonight!’s director Norb Joerder hasn’t solved this problem either and his few dance numbers look more like Native American dances from Annie Get Your Gun than those of the ancient Greeks.
The songs seem to have been shoehorned into an existing script and don’t forward the plot. Porter’s score, though it does have some clever patter songs (“They Couldn’t Compare to You,” “I Sleep Easier Now,” “What Do You Think About Men,” “Cherry Pies Ought to Be You” and “Nobody’s Chasing Me”), pales in comparison to his classic songs. The costumes mostly in black, white and red add little to the idea of a story of sex among the ruins of Greece, while the togas in a sort of diaphanous grey material fail to suggest the age of heroic adventure.
Either the casting or the directing seems to be off in terms of the characterizations, though the game cast works hard. As the American newlywed Helen, Haley Swindal seems too sophisticated for this role in which she is expected to appear rather innocent but suspicious. In what was originally the starring role, vivacious Catherine LeFrere as Juno is broad where she needs to be tongue-in-cheek. As a result, much of what she is asked to do comes across as too obvious. As narrator and instigator Mercury, Michael Damian Fasano is bland where he needs to be audacious and madcap. Perry Lambert’s gangster Niki needs to be bigger and more insidious – or more comic.
While neither the original production nor the Encores! revival double cast the roles of Jupiter and Art O’Malley, they are handled very successfully in this production. Jarid Faubel in the dual roles does a terrific job of making them different, so much so that it is necessary to look in the program to realize it is the same actor. His Jupiter is tall, muscular and brash while his Art is thin, meek and distracted by his work. It is as though Faubel has taken Superman and Clark Kent as his models. Faubel demonstrates a big legit singing voice in his duet with Swindal, the now classic, “From This Moment On,” restored to its original place in the score. Ironically, this song sounds nothing like the others and somewhat shatters the style of the show. Jillian Gottlieb as Chloe, the man-hungry maiden, steals every scene she is in with her understated provocativeness.
What Out of This World does have to offer is a rarely heard score by Cole Porter excellently sung. Aficionados of the Porter canon will want to hear this music sung live. Music director and vocal arranger David B. Bishop does a fine job at the piano with the bouncy score. In the spring look forward to Musicals Tonight!’s revivals of Rodgers & Hart’s Babes in Arms, Jerome Kern’s Oh, Boy! and the Bernstein-Comden and Green collaboration, Wonderful Town.
Out of This World (through November 8, 2015)
The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.musicalstonight.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission