Ed Dixon's Naughty, Gaudy, Bawdy Fanny Hill Musical Gets October Reading Directed by Roger Rees

News   Ed Dixon's Naughty, Gaudy, Bawdy Fanny Hill Musical Gets October Reading Directed by Roger Rees
Fanny Hill, the saucy musical comedy romp based on the naughty 18th-century novel by John Cleland, will get an Oct. 5 industry reading directed by Roger Rees.
Roger Rees
Roger Rees

Producers Dennis Grimaldi Productions, Nick Cavarra,  and The Zipper Theater  will  present the private reading at 1 PM and 4 PM Oct. 5 at The Zipper in Manhattan.

Rees directed Dixon at the Zipper in the current Kurt Weill entertainment, Here Lies Jenny, also starring Bebe Neuwirth.

Fanny Hill, about an innocent who becomes a prostitute, is a sexy romp through 1750 London. The reading will feature Amanda Watkins (Urinetown, Cabaret) as Fanny, with Michele Ragusa (A Class Act, Ragtime) as her dear friend Phoebe and Mary Stout (Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast) as "the delectably devious" Mrs. Brown. Also in the troupe are Ed Dixon, Gina Ferrall, Sue Goodman, Wayne Pretlow, and Michael Hunsaker.

Lyricist-librettist-composer Dixon and producers Nick Cavarra and Dennis Grimaldi brought the project to Rees and The Zipper Theater. "It was love at first sight when everyone first heard and read the script, and the pieces for the reading just started to fall into place immediately," Rees said in a statement.

Fanny Hill was first developed at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theater in 1999. It later had a Manhattan reading with Kristin Chenoweth as the lead. The comic romp is based on Cleland's notorious and banned 18th-century novel about a woman's journey from innocence to prostitution. But writer Dixon previously told Playbill On-Line his version is all in fun.

"It's the first dirty book of any note," Dixon 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 his 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 said. "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. The previous Fanny Hill company numbered 10.

"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 sung through.

"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. His credits include Broadway's The Iceman Cometh, as Piet Wetjoen, but he left the run early to nurture Fanny Hill in Connecticut. He's the Head Waiter in She Loves Me at Paper Mill Playhouse this fall.

Dixon also has on his resume a long stint as Thernardier on Broadway in Les Misérables, 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.

Performances for the Fanny Hill industry reading will be Oct. 5 at 1 PM and 4PM at The Zipper Theater, 336 W. 37th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.


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