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Paulanne Simmons

Fanny Hill Is Irresistible

David Cromwell, Patti Allison and Nancy Anderson in Ed Dixon's "Fanny Hill." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

"Fanny Hill"
Directed by James Brennan
York Theatre Company
At St. Peters
619 Lexington Ave at 54th St.
Opened Feb. 1, 2006
Mon. thru Sat 8 p.m., Wed. & Sat. 2:30 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
$55, (212) 868-4444 or www.SmartTix.com
Closes March 26, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 16, 2006

Going against the wave of films and plays depicting abusive, self-destructive and plain weird relationships, Ed Dixon's new musical, "Fanny Hill," carries the old-fashioned message that sex can be fun. Based on John Cleland's 1749 "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure," Fanny Hill is a tongue-in-cheek rollick that director James Brennan keeps fresh in every sense of the word.

Nancy Anderson is the curly-headed, blonde ingénue. Her combination of innocence, pluck and sensuality is bewitching. In fact, she might steal the show if not for the powerful performance of Patti Allison as the lusty madam, Mrs. Brown.

Dixon takes the orphaned Fanny from her home in Lancashire to the streets of London, Mrs. Brown's establishment, and Mr. Sneed's boardinghouse, where she lives with her lover, the sailor, Charles (Tony Yazbeck). After Charles is kidnapped by his shipmates and returned to the ship, she returns to Mrs. Brown and the "cousins," where she stays until she meets Lord Hereford (David Cromwell, also playing The Honorable Mister Croft, and Father Norbert, all exceedingly well), who sets her up in his country manor, where she lives a life of luxury until Charles returns and they both live happily ever after.

Michael Bottari and Ronald Case's excellent set (wooden balconies on either side of the stage) provides the framework for Fanny's adventure. But throughout the musical, either Anderson or Yazbeck works hard to destroy the illusion of time and place, so handsomely created by Bottari and Case, by making sly comments to the audience. The joke is then carried one step further when the other actor comments on the remark he or she was not supposed to hear.

Fanny is nurtured throughout by the other "cousins" in Mrs. Brown's house: the buxom Martha (Emily Skinner), the German wench Esther (Gina Ferrall) and her sometimes friend from home, Phoebe (Christianne Tisdale). They are an important part of the sexual fun (there's an orgy that could have been in "Hair") and contribute enormously to bringing Dixon's totally delightful words and music to life.

Dixon has scored Fanny Hill with songs that are reminiscent of the period and at the same have the catchy melodies and clever lyrics that make one think of Gilbert and Sullivan. Songs like "House of Joy," "Sailor's Song" and Allison's show-stopper, "Every Man in London," are all well-integrated into the plot and also stand out as great songs in their own right.

York Theater's most recent success was "Souvenir," which moved to Broadway this season. Fanny Hill may well be the company's repeat performance.

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