by Andy Propst
February 14, 2006
Under the direction of James Brennan, Fanny Hill, Ed Dixon’s new musical adaptation of John Cleland’s 1749 novel, bursts with buoyant energy and infectious bawdiness.
Naïf Fanny Hill sets off for London to make her fortune and finds herself taken in by an unscrupulous madam (played and sung with gleeful broadness by Patti Allison). Fanny quickly flees and meets Charles, her true love (a solid juvenile turn by Tony Yazbeck), only to have him kidnapped by pirates. Again alone, she returns to a life of prostitution, where she’s snapped up by a wealthy nobleman (David Cromwell delights in this role and as a variety of elderly letches).
A bit of infidelity with a stablehand (played with comic machismo by Adam Monley) sends Fanny back to the bordello, where she decides to give in to her lot in life and excel as a “woman of pleasure.” Before this merry tale has ended, she has accomplished this goal, become a wealthy woman, and, through a lucky twist of fate, been reunited with Charles.
As book writer and composer, Dixon succeeds marvelously. He creates a compelling arc for this picaresque tale, and his music nicely evokes the period while also incorporating operetta into the sounds of contemporary musical theatre.
Brennan ably deploys his company, which also includes the always solid Christianne Tisdale and Emily Skinner, on Michael Bottari and Ronald Case’s flexible wooden-scaffold set. The witty lighting is by Phil Monat.
At the center of this swirling tale is Nancy Anderson’s Fanny, a marvelous blend of childlike innocence and worldly pluckiness. Throughout, Anderson’s songbirdlike soprano trills over Dixon’s intricate melodic lines, creating a bravura performance that beautifully caps this delightful theatrical confection.