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A CurtainUp Review
Rome's near-operatic score is ambitious, melodic, lush and vibrant. The story of a pregnant girl, who weds a kindly and rich 70 year-old merchant when her sea-infatuated lover sails away, is, unlike many musicals, emotionally involving. It is the tender core of the story that comes to the fore in the admirable City Center's Encore presentation under the caressing direction of Marc Bruni. David Ives contributed a perfectly satisfactory concert version adaptation.
A film version minus Rome's songs (but with Rome's themes used as underscoring) follows a course that succeeded in its own right. But Rome's score is very special in that it is eminently worthy of its subject and vice versa. So let's praise the melodic and lyrical enhancement of the stage version that identifies the humorous and wise waterfront people for whom it was created. Musical director Rob Berman gives glorious support to instant winners like the title song, "Why Be Afraid to Dance," "Never Too Late for Love," "Welcome Home" and "Restless Heart."
Fanny is also that rare golden-era musical that makes us care what happens to its characters whose lives are to be bittersweetly intertwined (Marius's father the bar proprietor Cesar (George Hearn); the lonely, elderly sailmaker Panisse (Fred Applegate) who's enamored of Fanny; the passionate young lovers Marius (James Snyder) and Fanny (Elena Shaddow)). The story is foremost and plentiful. If there is a drawback, it is seeing these otherwise fine performers with script in hand, as is the custom in this series. Mr. Hearn seemed to rely on his more than the other principals.
To its glory, the singing, including that of the large ensemble chorus, is for the most part exceptional. I can't help it if echoes of Ezio Pinza's basso voice and accent still resonate in my brain, but Tony Award-winner (Sunset Boulevard, La Cage Aux Folles). Hearn's voice is nevertheless impressive and expressive in its own right, especially in Cesar's lilting "Love is a Very Light thing." Applegate, who earned laughs as the Blind Hermit in Young Frankenstein, endows Panisse with a notable joie de vivre but also a touch of poignancy with the sentimental "To My Wife."
The good-looking Snyder has a stirring tenor voice and he wowed the audience with the title song. Fanny couldn't have a more charming interpreter than Shaddow, whose bright soprano voice soars in the impassioned "I Have to Tell You." Priscilla Lopez, most recently seen in In the Heights, captures the lusty comical nature of Honorine, the fish stall keeper and Fanny's mother.
Choreographer Lorin Latarro has incorporated some lively dances for the wedding scene and plenty of acrobatics for the rousing and colorful "Cirqué Français" in Act II. I presume that Latarro gets credit for the insinuating wiggles and gyrations of the Belly Dancer as performed by Nina LaFarga. This is a particularly well-staged number that segues into a bar brawl among the bar's rough and horny habitués. Young Ted Sutherland was also standout with his sturdy singing and performance as Cesario the young son of Fanny and Marius.
Bruni, who has served as a directing associate on a number of Encore's productions, has mindfully put the relationships front and center. But with the help of John Lee Beatty as scenic consultant, he has also allowed the ambiance of life on the Marseille waterfront, with its vendors, sailors, fishermen and townspeople, to play a significant part in the action. Among the excellent scenic touches is the mast of a sailing ship that looms behind the large on stage orchestra. Interestingly, the Encore Series, in this age of scaled down musical revivals on the main stem, doesn't really seem scenically challenged anymore.
There is no denying that Fanny is a beautifully romantically conceived musical with a magnanimous heart. It deserves a higher place in the pantheon of distinguished American musical plays. By the time you read this you may have lost the short window of opportunity to enjoy its many and lasting pleasures. I understand that the original cast recording is out of print and difficult to find. Let's hope Encore! issues its own recording.