The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings





Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants









Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
Fanny Hill

Honor lost so this is honor lost
I had no idea that one day I'd be a
woman degraded my dignity traded
for money just for biscuit and honey
It's really quite funny

--- Fanny from "Honor Lost."

Nancy Anderson in <i>Fanny Hill
Nancy Anderson in Fanny Hill
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
John Cleland's novel, Fanny Hill -- Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, has become famous as much, if not more, for its connection to the battle against censorship of erotica than for its contents. The book was banned and its author arrested when published in 1741. It continued to be banned and damned, until a historic 1966 United States Supreme Court decision ruled that G.B. Putnam's 1963 re-issue did not meet the standards of obscenity.

Like much more erotic 18th century works (think Defoe's Moll Flanders, Fielding's Tom Jones, de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses) the memoir of the orphaned Fanny who went to London to seek her fortune and ended up as a prostitute and kept woman, has become tame stuff in the light of contemporary mores. Still, the novel remains in print and is available as a free e-text (see link below). None of the four film versions have achieved hit status, not the 1964 and 1995 American film, not the 1983 German version or the most erotic Swedish set one made in 1968.

Unlike Les Liaisons Dangereuses Fanny's story hasn't caught the fancy of any playwrights. Until now when it is making its Off-Broadway debut in the form of a musical -- with Ed Dixon ambitiously tackling libretto, lyrics and music, and that intrepid supporter of new musicals, The York Theatre Company, giving it an atypically lavishly staged productions. That nine-actor strong cast features some of the contemporary musical theater's most accomplished performers, most with Broadway credits. Leading the ensemble is Nancy Anderson who can claim the adjective adorable as her very own. But Anderson is not just a delectable looking blonde (in this show, a blonde courtesy of a corkscrew curl wig), but a versatile actress (that versatility first displayed at this very same theater when she played all the women in Jolson) with a gorgeous and powerful soprano voice.

Dixon's musical adaptation, while basically true to the memoir format of Cleland's novel, has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and takes advantage of as many opportunities for double entendres as possible. James Brennan, who also directed Dixon's more somber but very satisfying Richard Cory at the last New York Music Festival (see link below), is equally at home with this more popular audience geared comic romp.

The actors all extend their roles to do ensemble duty, some playing more than one character. The prime example of a dual role player is the always reliable David Cromwell who lustily (and lustfully) plays all except one of the clients who visit Mrs. Brown and her "ladies of pleasure." The one other pleasure seeker, the masochistic Mr. Barville, is played to the hilt by Michael J. Farina who also doubles as a greedy landlord named Mr. Sneed.

Anderson is ideally cast as the innocent abroad, and so are Patti Allison as the opportunistic, tough Mrs. Brown and the members of her household: Christiane Tisdale as Fanny's old friend Phoebe; Emily Skinner as Martha the maid "who sometimes works downstairs;" Gina Ferral as Esther, a big girl (she also plays Count Brodski, a cross-dressing Countess). As Candide had to endure separation from his beloved, so must Fanny. The male counterpart of Cunegonde is a young sailor, another appealing and well-sung performance by Tony Yazbeck, a sailor whose name is Charles Waneigh (given that Waneigh is pronounced like Fanny -- it doesn't take much guesswork to figure out that Fanny must marry Waneigh if we're to have an all's well that ends well finale with a funny punch line). To help Fanny assuage boredom as a rich nobelman's country mistress, there's also Adam Monley as the slyly named Will Plenty.

Though not sung through, the plot is primarily song driven, with some wonderfully melodic ensemble numbers, solos and duets. As is not unusual when a musical's creator multi-tasks, not all the tasks are executed with equal success. In Dixon's case, the lyrics are not on a par with the music. Patti Allison's Mrs. Brown is gifted with the lyric that best captures the tongue-in-cheek, double-entendre flavor, in a show-stopping second act song titled "Every Man in London," Here's a sample: "I've had every man in London, I confess/And there's not a one worth lifting up your dress/Whether short or fat or tall, they're all uniformly small/In a way that makes you say how less is less." Fanny's "Honor Lost" is another of the wittier lyrics (see the quote at the top of this review). A Gilbert & Sullivanish ditty by Waneigh and his mates is also great fun.

Michael Bottari and Ronald Case's scenic design and costumes more than justify the company's exceeding its usually modest production budget. The weathered wood two-tiered set smartly accommodates a variety of settings. Props metamorphose from one function to another before our eyes -- for example, the clip-clopping carriage (complete with turning wheels) that transports Fanny from her country home to the big city, is smoothly disassembled and transformed into a table. Enough room has been left room at the side and read of the stage for the excellent three piece orchestra, with musical director Stan Tucker at the piano.

With four producers listed, it's clear that these topnotch actors and designers have been assembled with the hope that Fanny Hill will follow in the footsteps of Souvenir and The Musical of Musicals with a life beyond the York's home at Saint Peter's. But show business being the horse race it is, don't bank on it. If you want see and hear the girl who sought her fortune sing, check it out before its designated March 26th closing.

To get a Free e-text of the Cleland novel, go to
For my review of Ed Dixon's Richard Corey, see our NYMusic Festival page

Music, Lyrics, Book: Ed Dixon, based on John Cleland's novel.also known as Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure.
Directed by James Brennan
Musical direction by Stan Tucker
Cast: Patti Allison; Nancy Anderson; David Cromwell; Michael J. Farina; Gina Ferrall; Adam Monley; Emily Skinner; Christianne Tisdale and Tony Yazbeck). Scenic and costume design:Michael Bottari and Ronald Case
Set Design:
Costume Design:
Lighting Design: Phil Monat.
Wigs & Hair Design: Gerard Kelly
Orchestrations: Nick DeGregorio
Orchestra: Tara Chambers, cellist; Jeff Nichols, reeds; Stan Tucker, piano/keyboard
Running time: Approximately 2 hours, plus an intermission.
York Theatre at St Peters, 619 Lexington Avenue (Entrance on 54th St.) or SmartTix 212-868-4444
From 2/01/06 to 3/26/06; opening 2/14/06.
Monday through Saturday at 8 PM; Wednesday & Saturday at 2:30 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM beginning Thursday, February 1.
Tickets: $45 during previews,, $55 from 2/15. Student Rush (without the rush!) -- $20 (in advance with valid student ID). Senior rush tickets at $20 available a half an hour before curtain, subject to availability
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on February 9th press performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture/ Orchestra & Fanny
  • Lancashire / Ensemble
  • On the Road / Ensemble
  • Seeing London / Ensemble
  • Going to Mrs. Brown's/ Mrs. Brown
  • House of Joy /Couisins & Mrs. Brown
  • Croft's Serenade/ Croft & Fanny
  • Welcome to London/ Martha & Fanny
  • Sailor's Song Sailors & Charles
  • The Most Heavenly Creature/ Charles & Robbers
  • I Have Never Been So Happy / Charles & Fanny
  • Marriage Song / Charles & Fanny
  • Phoebe's Song /Phoebe. Esther & Martha
  • The Weeping Song/ Fanny& Ensemble
Act Two
  • Entr'acte Mrs. Brown, Esther, Phoebe, Martha & Sailor
  • The Card Game /Mrs. Brown, Esther, Phoebe, Martha
  • Tea Service / Mrs. Brown & Cousins
  • Honor Lost / Fanny
  • A Little House in the Country/ Fanny & Ensemble
  • My Only Love / Fanny, & Charles
  • Every Man in London /Mrs. Brown
  • Big /Fanny & Will
  • I Came To London / Fanny
  • Pleasure Dance Ensemble
  • Goodbye /Fanny & Ensemble
  • Storm/ Fanny, Charles & Ensemble
  • Finale / Ensemble
Playbill Broadway Year Book
The new annual to dress up every Broadway lover's coffee table

broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

metaphors dictionary cover
>6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.