Kristin Chenoweth will romp and roll in an private New York City reading of the sexy and buoyant musical comedy, Fanny Hill, Dec. 20.
The bawdy musical by librettist-composer-lyricist Ed Dixon, inspired by a naughty yarn from the 1700s, was written with Chenoweth in mind, and had a sold-out developmental staging at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in summer 1999, but without the actress. The new readings are to test new material and engage further industry interest.
Robert Johanson of Paper Mill directs. Producers are Pete Herber, attached to the material from the start, and Ken Gentry & Kary Walker of NETworks. The reading cast also includes Mary Stout (Jane Eyre), Julia Murney (Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party) and Paul Schoeffler (Peter Pan). The Fanny Hill company numbered 10 for Goodspeed, and will be 14 for the reading.
The comic romp is based on John Cleland's notorious 18th century novel about a woman's journey from innocence to prostitution. But writer Dixon said his version is all in fun. The thing is written and directed in a "lightning-fast" style, said Herber. "It's the first dirty book of any note," Dixon previously said of the 1749 novel. "It's the first [such] book to reach a literary status."
Dixon, who wrote book, music and lyrics, said the novel is "absolutely humorless," but filled with graphic sexual adventures. He chose to present Fanny's journey — and the sexcapades — with humor rather than nudity or crudeness, creating a rapid-fire romp.
The book had been on Dixon's shelf for many years, but he resisted it as a musical possibility because it was so raunchy. "I'm always looking in the classics for things that can be adapted," Dixon told Playbill On-Line. "But it's so graphic that I shunted it aside."
But he revisited the book when he decided he wanted to do a sexy, romantic show, and Tom Jones and Casanova seemed too unwieldy and required too large a cast. I suddenly saw 'Fanny Hill, which had been on my shelf," he said. "I don't think anyone's noticed the plot before. The plot's fantastic!"
After her parents die, Fanny goes to London where she falls in with a madam, unknowingly begins a life of ill repute, meets her true love and then loses him and becomes the most famous woman of pleasure in London.
"It's my intention that the piece not be vulgar at all," said Dixon. "[Although] it deals with a crossdressing countess and a masochist and lisping priest..."
The musical, which he calls a freely adapted version of the book, "goes about a thousand miles an hour, the plot happens so quickly you have to keep up."
Dixon describes the music as "very romantic" and not through composed. His previous shows, Shylock and Cather County were through-composed.
"My bent is slightly operatic and through-composed, but in this case I wanted something more commercial: A musical with songs and book," he said.
Dixon studied voice at Manhattan School of Music and has worked steadily for years as an actor in both musical and non musical roles. He was most recently in Broadway's The Iceman Cometh, as Piet Wetjoen, but he left the run early to nurture Fanny Hill in Connecticut.
Dixon, 52, also has on his resume a long stint as Thernardier on Broadway in Les Miserables, Cardinal Richelieux in The Three Musketeers and Ozzy in The Scarlet Pimpernel (all on Broadway). On tour he was Max in Sunset Boulevard (Joseph Jefferson Award Nomination), and Charles in Pippin.
Observers of Fanny Hill say that a production in London would make sense since the landscape of the show is England, and the attitudes about sex are so free and seem so obviously European.
Musical direction for the reading is by Constantine Kitsopoulos. Who also music-directed the Goodspeed staging (which was helmed by Gabriel Barre).
Fanny Hill had a reading at Manhattan Theatre Club in November 1998. Lynette Perry (Ragtime) played the title role.
Blessed with a shimmering soprano and a wicked belt, Chenoweth is the Tony Award-winning actress who made a splash in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and was seen in Steel Pier and a handful of Encores! concerts at City Center. She starred in the Broadway comedy, Epic Proportions. She was recently announced to be Marian the Librarian in an upcoming TV version of "The Music Man," opposite Matthew Broderick. A TV series, "Kristin," failed to catch fire on NBC earlier this year, prompting colleagues and critics to firmly state that she is a creature of the stage, particularly of the musical theatre.