Time makes a mess of things,” Noël Coward once wrote. But time can’t be blamed for After the Ball: Coward’s 1954 musical of Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan was already a mess to begin with, cut to shreds on its pre-London tour, panned on arrival, and never making it to New York until now. If it still looks a mess, time has had help from director-designer Tony Walton and script editor Barry Day, whose Cowardian credentials are unimpeachable but whose dramaturgical taste runs to unwise interpolated songs and an irksomely coy rhymed narration.
Walton’s designs are inevitably more skillful than his staging. And at least the female half of his cast is well chosen: Kristen Huxhold is a vocally ravishing Lady Windermere, Mary Illes makes the sinister Mrs. Erlynne both glamorous and sweet-voiced, and Kathleen Widdoes, as the dotty Duchess of Berwick, can steal the show even with inferior material. If the men onstage could come even halfway up to their standard, the show’s flaws would be easy to overlook. But apparently Walton doesn’t know any good-looking men who can act and sing. And here I thought New York was jammed with them.