FANNY HILL Seduces The Audience Completely
by Jessica Branch
February 16-22, 2006
Book, music and lyrics by Ed Dixon. Dir. James Brennan. With Nancy Anderson, Patti Allison. York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s Church (see Off Broadway).
Fanny Hill’s tale possesses the eternal allure of innocence debauched—and then empowered (kinda). Based on John Cleland’s infamous 1749 erotic novel, Ed Dixon’s musical remains remarkably, um, faithful. The pliable young heroine (Anderson), impoverished and orphaned, travels to London to seek her fortune, only to fall into the clutches of a conniving madam (Allison). A series of sexual adventures ensues, of which true love proves ultimately the most satisfying, if not the most profitable.
Rattling along at breakneck speed, the plot moves as quickly as the cute but low-budget set, from Fanny’s abbreviated bucolic childhood to a climactic and elaborately choreographed orgy, which includes—among other ingredients—a priest, a member of Parliament and a shepherd’s crook. Juxtaposing ornate 18th-century diction, decorum and musical flourishes with a gleeful exposé of humanity’s baser drives, the musical sometimes sacrifices character to expedience, so that even lovely ballads lose some conviction. But the wordplay is clever, the harmonies charming, the story’s development fast and funny, and many of the performances are excellent.
As the blowsy, ball-busting brothel keeper, Allison plays her role to the hilt, reveling in the fact that while some part of her anatomy may be made of gold, it’s not her heart. And, clad in a Dolly Parton wig and a trousseau’s worth of period undergarments, Anderson transcends the limitations of her butt-of-the-dirty-joke stereotype. As Fanny evolves from ingenue to ardent carnal entrepreneur, the tart-tongued Lancashire lassie really does seduce the audience completely.