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Paulanne Simmons

"Fanny" Brings Romance to City Center

Directed by Rob Berman
New York City Center Encores!
West 55th Street between 6th and 7th avenues
Feb. 4 – 7, 2010
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 6, 2010

James Snyder & cast of Fanny. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In 1954, "Fanny" was the first production from that theatrical titan David Merrick, who would go on to back more than two dozen shows. According to some, Merrick had originally wanted Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to do "Fanny." One can't be sure what Rodgers and Hammerstein might have done with this ultra romantic story based on Marcel Pagnol's trilogy of plays entitled Marius, Fanny and César. But the combination of S. N. Behrman and Joshua Logan's book and Harold Rome's music and lyrics created a musical that is light, breezy and steadfastly sincere.

"Fanny" opened to mixed reviews, but played for two years and earned Walter Slezak a Tony for his portrayal of Panisse, the wealthy sailmaker. But the show has never been revived on Broadway, nor has it entered the cannon of shows produced by regional or amateur companies.

Elena Shaddow, Ted Sutherland, Fred Applegate, George Hearn, James Snyder.Photo by Joan Marcus.

Happily, NY City Center has chosen "Fanny" For its 50th Encores! production. Directed by Mark Bruni, with choreography by Lorin Latarro and music direction by Rob Berman, "Fanny" features Broadway veterans Fred Applegate as Panisse and George Hearn as the tavern owner Cesar, his best friend and sometime adversary.

Elena Shaddow & James Snyder. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Set in the seaport French city of Marseilles, "Fanny" is a romantic tale about a young woman, Fanny, who falls in love with Cesar's son, the sea-struck Marius (James Snyder), who sets sail one day, leaving Fanny pregnant after a night of lovemaking. While Marius is away, his father disowns him and agrees to have Fanny (who is under pressure from her mother, Honorine [Priscilla Lopez]) marry the widowed Panisse. The plan is to have the childless Panisse raise Fanny and Marius's son as his own. Cesar becomes the godfather and the child will inherit all the money from both families.

Ted Sutherland and Elena Shaddow. Photo by Joan Marcus.

When Marius returns on his son's first birthday, he is turned away, although somewhat reluctantly by Fanny. The years pass. The young boy, Cesario (Ted Sutherland), true to the blood that flows in his veins, develops a hankering for the sea. The elderly Panisse dies. And love triumphs, be it fourteen years later.

Even with its minimal staging, this Encores! production captures the warm, languid atmosphere of the Mediterranean city. The full orchestra does full justice to Rome's score, which reflects the international quality of the city, mixing waltzes with Spanish and Middle Eastern musical themes.

Hearn and Applegate bestride the show as the conniving old friends. But Lopez holds her own as the equally conniving Honorine. Shaddow and Snyder are an endearing couple who manage to be believable in an unreal world.

For many, "Fanny," with its fairy tale plot and excess of ballads, may be a bit too sweet for our cynical times. But for those who are willing to suspend disbelief and shelve scorn for a short while, Fanny is pure delight.

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