Book by S.N. Behrman and Joshua Logan
Music & Lyrics by Harold Rome
adapted from the trilogy of novels by Marcel Pagnol

INFO:

Opened at the Majestic Theatre    November 4, 1954    888 performances
Original Director: Joshua Logan
Original Choreographer: Helen Tamaris
Original Producer:David Merrick, Joshua Logan
Original Leads:   Panisse: Walter Slezak    Cesar: Enzio Pinza    Fanny: Florence Henderson
Cast Size: Male: 6 plus one boy    Female: 2 plus one sexy dancer    Ensemble: As large as you can, no less than 12. (Cut the big dances, and this could perhaps be about 8) Total Cast Size: 22 or more, usually about 30. (Cut the big dances, get it down to about 20 or so.)
Orchestra: 22
Published Script: Random House
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: The original Broadway is incomplete, as the show has a great deal of music. But it does represent the musical ideas well enough, and is effective.
Film: None. A film was made but all the songs removed and turned into background music!
Other shows by the authors: Rome: Pins & Needles, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Destry Rides Again, Wish You Were Here   Logan: South Pacific
Awards: Walter Slezak won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a rather large show. The music needs a fair-sized orchestra to carry the drama of the piece. The ranges are operatic for three of your five leads. A fine show for Light Opera and perhaps Opera companies to look at. Companies specializing in Musical Theater should give it a good look. It won’t play today on Broadway, but it may play well enough in other places.

Also, a very good show if you have two mature actors, one a baritone who sings operatically, and who are strong actors. There aren’t many shows that fit that category.

Be Warned:

This show has adult themes. The title character becomes pregnant out of wedlock after a one night affair. The real father abandons the child to its mother and another man. The grandfather hides the truth from the world and plays godfather. But this is all done with humor, wit, and taste, and I think it does work well. Still, if your audience is too conservative for such themes, this isn’t your show.

The two leading men should really be played by mature actors, and so this musical may not work well for colleges or universities.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: The waterfront of Marseilles. A dark little man in a tattered navel uniform, the Admiral, has something he wishes to show handsome, young Marius. The Admiral seems somewhat mad (“Octopus Song”), as he sells Marius on sailing out on an exploratory expedition for 5 years, Marius “Restless Heart” dream come true. The Admiral, as it turns out, runs an establishment with many sexy dancers, and uses them to attract in sailors, to help Marius’ dream come to fruition. Marius needs to work at his father, Cesar’s, bar. Honorine, a mature (and pretty funny) woman with a beautiful daughter, Fanny, owns the local fish stall, and suspects the Admiral of making trouble, as Marius hurries away. It becomes clear that Marius loves Fanny, and she loves him.

A wealthy elderly man, Panisse, owner of a sail supply store, hovers nearby and speaks to Marius, letting him know that his wife passed away three months ago, and it’s “Never Too Late For Love”. Everyone assumes it’s Honorine that Pannise is interested in. But he shares with Fanny a love poem he learned form a Cold Cream Jar. And now, Fanny knows Panisse, a nice man but far too old, wants to marry her. (From a letter he wrote, Fanny thought he wanted her mother, Honorine.) She only wants Marius. Panisse and Marius get into a petty spat, which surprises Fanny, and pleases her. She admits to herself she has long loved Marius.

Cesar, Marius’ father, enters annoyed, for Marius has ordered 45 cases of vermouth instead of “four or five.” Marius leaves to take care of it. Fanny and Cesar talks, and he gets her to admit she’s in love with Marius. Cesar wants to know why Marius seems to shy away from women, especially one he clearly is in love with. (“Why Be Afraid To Dance”) In fact, Cesar is himself on his way to a tryst. And Honorine enters dressed up, expecting Panisse to ask for her hand. So she’s surprised when he offers a hefty dowry for Fanny’s hand. Honorine turns Panisse down.

Several local men gather around to play cards with Panisse, remarking that Cesar cheats and wins – mostly against Panisse. (Theirs is a loving feud going back to their early school years.) Cesar has no time for them – dressed and ready for his tryst, he and Panisse agree on one thing, it’s “Never Too Late To Love” (reprise).

The Admiral’s “club”, called “Hakim’s Cellar”. Girls dance, sailors enjoy them. (“Shika, Shika”) A brawl breaks out, Marius fights well. Fanny confronts the Admiral, who claims he’s luring Marius to sea to save him from a life of marriage, and insists she leave. The second mate (who selects the crew) likes how Marius fights, and offers him a birth in their five year mission.

In Cesar’s bar, night. Marius sneaks in, knowing it’s his last night at home, the ship sails in the morning. He does not want to face his father, but Cesar enters, his affairs of the day concluded. Cesar feels that his warm house sings “Welcome Home” to him, and Marius gets a taste of what he’s giving up. Panisse has told Cesar about his fight over Fanny with Panisse, and Cesar is very happy. He has always wanted his son and Fanny together. Marius denies the fight, or any interest, to his father. But he tells his father as best he can how he feels for the man who raised him. (“I Like You”) Fanny shows up, knowing she must tell Marius how she feels. (“I Have To Tell You”) Marius admits to being torn, and to her face, says that it’s only “Fanny” that he loves. She’s made it difficult for him to leave, but leave he will do.

Next day at the dock, the ship has sailed. Cesar stands alone watching it go, his son’s hat in his hand.

Weeks later, in Cesar’s bar, Panisse and the men are playing cards, and want Cesar to play. It’s clear Cesar does cheat, and Panisse complains that his whole life, he has put up with the man. (The feeling is mutual.) A letter arrives from Marius, and Cesar pretends not to care. But he can’t read for tears, and Fanny reads it to him. Marius is assistant cook. Cesar is convinced now the crew is doomed. In his letter, he asks how Fanny’s marriage to Panisse is going. (They’re not married.) Cesar says he knows Marius and Fanny made love that last night. Why did she let him go? She tells Cesar that she was afraid if she kept him there, Marius would end up hating her for stealing his dream.

Another day, at Honorine’s kiosk. Fanny admits to her mother that she’s pregnant with Marius’ child. Honorine insists she must marry, or they must leave town. Who should she wed? There’s Panisse. She agrees, with some reluctance. In Panisse’s Sail Shop, Fanny accepts the man’s proposal, but also tells him the whole truth. Strangely, Panisse is not just okay with it, but thrilled she’s pregnant. This will be the son he always dreamed of having, to inherit his wealth and carry forth the family name, and he will joyously raise the child as his own. (“Panisse and Son”) Fanny is also thrilled, her son will have a respected name. But the baby is due is seven months, so they must hurriedly wed. Cesar is at first opposed. But Panisse lets the man angrily know that there is a baby on the way – Marius’ baby. At first, Cesar believes he can write Marius that Fanny is pregnant, and he’ll rush home. They all doubt Marius would return, however. Panisse paints a picture of the life of the boy as his own son, aggrandized and loved. Cesar moans – he would not be able to admit its his grandson! But as Panisse says, a godfather has the right to visit every day, take the boy on his shoulders, to his hearts content. And they will name him Cesar, or Cesario. He will inherit both men’s considerable wealth. It is done.

There is a big wedding. The town marvels that Fanny would wed Panisse. Months later, the boy is born and Easter bells ring in the church.

ACT TWO: “The Birthday Song”, a ten part round (?!, very fun) is sung on Master Cesario’s first birthday by celebrating family and friends. Panisse and Cesar debate what brilliant future the child will have, proud father and grandfather. Panisse sings a passionate song of joy about his life with Fanny. (“To My Wife”) The family is all into Panisse’s business now, Honorine doing a great job as his bookkeeper. Fanny is alone. Then, Marius shows, in seaman’s uniform. He has done the simple math and knows the baby is his son. He admits the voyage has been a terrible disappointment, and to Fanny’s face, tells her “The Thought Of You” is all that keeps him going. Cesar walks in on them, and is quietly alarmed. Panisse has been an excellent father, and a friend, he does not want these two young people to make a mistake. He realizes his son is determined, and insists the young man leave. He won’t.

Then Panisse enters, having missed his train with an on-going suspicion, now given life, that Marius would return. He considers killing himself to get out of the way of young love, but loves his life too much to do so. Panisse leaves to care for the baby. Cesar spells it out for his son, that it is Panisse who has raised the boy with love and care, and that is a real father. (“Love Is A Very Light Thing”, a very fine lyric and idea.) Marius sees this is so, and departs.

The baby grows, through various fun vignettes, as the men and Fanny also age. At age 12, he’s fascinated with ships, to everyone’s horror. He speaks to Cesar, and wonders why they all are afraid of his interest in the sea. Cesar says that his own son ran away from him. Cesario has heard of Marius, and asks if his father knew the man. Panisse admits he did, and that he liked him. But as Cesar sadly says, Marius vanished years ago. Fanny tries to explain to her son that adults are confused and troubled in their own way, and that he should “Be Kind To Your Parents”.

We see the Admiral tempting the boy with the sea. (The guy is clearly insane.) He tells Cesario he knows where Marius is…in Toulon, working in a garage. He leaves for America tomorrow. There is a big birthday party for the boy that night, and he and the Admiral decide to sneak away, to Marius.

During the party, it becomes obvious the boy has vanished. In Toulon, Cesario meets Marius, who has grown older and more serious. Cesario asks Marius, a stranger, if he can go to America with him, and learn about the sea. Marius explains the boy has a wonderful family, and should stay with them, but the boy begs…

Panisse’s bedroom. He is dying, tough and resilient as he is. Everyone is looking for the boy, and tensions are high. Panisse and Cesar argue over whether Panisse should do last rites, since he refuses…when they hear Marius’ voice. He’s brought the boy home. Panisse collapses into Cesar’s arms.

Dying, alone with Cesar, Panisse dictates a letter asking Marius to please marry Fanny after Panisse has died. As he passes, he only ask that the boy keep the name “Panisse”, and so it shall be.

THE SONGS:

“Octopus Song”, “Restless Heart”, “Never Too Late for Love”, “Cold Cream Jar Song”, “Why Be Afraid to Dance?”, “Never Too Late for Love” (Reprise), “Shika, Shika”, “Welcome Home”, “I Like You”, “I Have to Tell You”, “Fanny”, “The Lovers”, “The Sailing”, “Oysters, Cockles and Mussels”, “Panisse and Son”, “Wedding Dance”, “Birthday Song”, “To My Wife”, “The Thought of You”, “Love Is a Very Light Thing”, “Other Hands, Other Hearts”, “Fanny” (Reprise), “Circus Ballet”, “Be Kind to Your Parents”, “Welcome Home” (Reprise)

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating. We’ll see whose fanny is red at the end of the day…

Okay, there’s the name of the show. Let’s get past that. I recognize the problem. You recognize the problem. It is a common French name for a woman of the period, so let’s just get over it, okay? (Yes, there were three novels the musical was adapted from, the other two named Cesar and Marius. The show could have taken its title from those shows, but the real star is probably Panisse. There you have it.)

This show is in the same school as other quasi-operas written for Broadway in the late 40s-50s, such as Street Scene, and The Most Happy Fella, which it most resembles. In fact, it could be argued that it resembles Loesser’s attempt at Broadway Opera a bit too much, but we’ll move on. This show leans heavily on the Rodgers & Hammerstein formula for musical story-telling, and also has some resemblance to South Pacific, with which the Broadway production shared two of its leads, and nearly shared all three (Mary Martin was going to do the show, but dropped out, and Florence Henderson, later catapulted to fame playing Mrs. Brady on The Brady Bunch, played the part.) There is a lot of music in this show, and sadly enough, Harold Rome was never either a first rate composer or lyricist. He’s good, he’s capable, he can compose a memorable melody from time to time, though rarely, and not much in this show. The score is workable, it’s all workable. It just isn’t generally wonderful, with the exceptions of the memorable theme to the title song, and the musically clever “Birthday Song”. And I do really like the thought behind “Love Is A Very Light Thing”, which is actually the thematic thread, the “message” of this show – the people who love us and raise us are our parents.

The strength of Fanny is found in its very interesting and adult script. As you can see from the lengthy outline above, the script is dense with story. It is a very interesting script, one in which all the main characters actually go through a character arc, change, and generally grow. The two older men, Cesar and Panisse, are terrific roles for mature actors, something rather hard to find in theater. The last scene with them alone is very moving.  Even Fanny and Marius, though less well-drawn, change and grow up, and do things that open our eyes to their nature and how its changing through the years. These roles, real actor’s roles with lots of singing, are the biggest reason this show may have some sort of future.

The script does its work with humor, the sort more likely to induce smiles than loud laughs, but the effect is constant and charming. It must be very well acted, though! This is no show for amateur elders to take on, it needs two men with real experience on the boards, two “stars”. And the young leads must sing operatically, with passion and authority. Casting will go a long way toward making or breaking a production of Fanny.

Are there better shows? Absolutely. Is this a “forgotten masterpiece?” No, it’s no masterpiece. It is a little known show today that has largely dropped out of the repertoire. But the music doesn’t effectively “date” the show (as is true of many better known shows), it is true to the story and the period in which the tale takes place. The lyrics are smarter than those found in many other shows. It provides many characters, including secondary ones, worth an actor’s time. It should see productions from time to time.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is rich with operatic sensibilities. It is a cross between grandiloquent Musical Theater and opera. A Musical Director for this show must be comfortable playing and teaching complex music, even a 10-part round or fugue, and know how to work with classically-trained voices as well as theatrical voices. There’s a lot of music in the show, so you’ll need to be able to play inexhaustibly. No job for a novice!

Panisse – Lyric baritone with some tenor notes. A character-driven voice, lovable and accessible, not operatic.

Cesar – A full-bodied mature baritone voice, opera-trained. Must be able to sing with emotion.

Fanny – A legit soprano with a solid mid-register.

Marius – An operatic tenor voice, with an expressive and full mid-range.

Honorine – Mezzo alto. A good solid mid-range.

Cesario – Non-singing role.

The Admiral – Lyric baritone, character-driven voice.

Ensemble – All should have fairly legit voices and harmonize decently. There’s a lot of backup choral vocal work. If they read, so much the better.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This is no dance show. There are four parts of the show that call for dance – and if I were directing, I’d consider cutting three of them. The cuts I would propose would lower the cast size to under 20, and make the show more producible, and I don’t think the dance adds much.

The numbers calling for dance include “Why Be Afraid to Dance?”, “Shika, Shika”,”Wedding Dance”, and the”Circus Ballet”.

I would keep “Why Be Afraid To Dance”, as it is instrumental to the character development, but it is a gentle dance, almost a solo by Cesar that the other principles join in – it does not need ensemble. It should be intimate and joyous, use the stage, but be populated with the characters we care about only. It isn’t really about dance, but is more about the ability to participate in life, to touch and get involved with others, and that is where the movement should come from. A Director who can stage music well (as Logan did) can do this number, and keep it integrated into the action.

“Skika Shika” is a fairly lame excuse to get some exotic movement into the show, and some leggy girls. Now, I like leggy girls as much as anyone! But this number could be reduced to 16 bars of one girl, doing a routine. It is entirely incidental to the story as a dance. Cast one sexy exotic dancer and let her create her own movement.

“The Wedding Dance” is not needed to demonstrate we’re at a wedding. Just cut to the chase and cut the number, the show’s pretty long as it is.

“The Circus ballet” is another excuse for movement, a big birthday p[arty for a 12 year old, whose father has employed a circus! For heaven’s sake, keep the production values within reasonable range! A clown and juggler could walk through the premises while “outside”, we hear the circus, that’s all you need, it’s silly and fun and will communicate the idea.

The other numbers are almost all solos and duets with some serious singing. Movement cannot get in the way of the actor’s ability to vocalize, and to communicate the character. I don’t believe this show requires a Choreographer IF the unnecessary numbers are cut.

CASTING CONCERNS:

NOTE – Yes, the characters are all French – so you don’t really need any accents, since they’d all be the same accent. I would not go there.

Panisse – 40s-60s. A very strong character actor, lovable, energetic, industrious. A man able to carry a grudge for a long time, and able to live with it without is poisoning his life. A good man with a big heart, generous to a fault. Charismatic, funny, prickly and endearing. Cast a very strong actor who sings well, is the right type and can do some movement, in that order. A star.

Cesar – 40s-60s, a handsome, somewhat dashing, tall leading man type, suave and a charmer. Funny, requires good, dry comic timing. A practical man when all is said and done, and a loving one, who like Panisse, can carry a long grudge without having it poison the well. Cast for voice, acting, type, some movement. (He should move well.) A star.

Fanny – Late teens-20s to play late teens-about 30. Lovely, bright, alive. She must be desirable, as men seem to take a real shine to her. Yet she is of an age where her friends have largely been married off already. That is because she quietly loves Marius, who seems unaware of her. In the end, she is as practical as the two older men, and does what she must. She even has heart enough to learn to love her life and the man who married her, a difficult transition to make credible, so cast a fine actress. Cast voice, type, acting, some movement.

Marius – Late teens-20s to play late teens-30ish. Young, strapping, handsome, self-involved. He genuinely loves his father, and eventually Fanny. He grows into a sense of responsibility, but earlier on, has none. Emotional, impulsive, enchanted at first by the sea, easily duped by the Admiral. Cast for type, voice, acting, some movement.

Honorine – 30s-40s to play 30s-40s. Fanny’s mother, probably once a hot number. She’s worked hard, and shows it, but has retained drive and a sense of humor. A real survivor who is not adverse to hard work, blessed with a practical mind. Must play comedy well. Cast for type, acting, voice, some movement.

Cesario – 12 year-old boy. Should look sort of like Marius, probably. A decent young actor.

The Admiral – 40s-60s, a man who may have once been a sailor. He is quietly mad, quietly industrious. He is even respected, as the owner of the local dance hall. Manipulative, he believes he’s doing the right thing. Cast for acting, voice, type.

Escartifique – 40s-50s, a friend of Panisse and Cesar, a ferryboat captain. A dry wit, a slaty disposition. Cast for type, voice, acting.

M. Brun – 40s-50s, another friend of the men. A customs inspector recently returned from Paris, perhaps with a hint of sophistication and panache. Cast for acting, type, voice.

Ensemble – Dance hall girls, people on the street, friends of the family, a wide range of roles, your ensemble will be kept busy. All should sing well, act decently.

SETS:

We’re in and around the Old Port of Marseilles, not long ago. The feel should be ocean front, salty, used.

The first long scene takes place on the waterfront, with small carts and shops visible. This is one of your larger sets. It should evoke a world of old, sea-bitten wood and age, faded colors that may have once been bright. Use most of the stage for it.

Drop across the front of the stage (or near there) scene II, Hakim’s Cellar, mostly dark, a spot on the dancer, some candles, some ambient light. It can be a short scene played in one, with a few tables and chairs brought on.

Scene III, raise the drop to reveal Cesar’s bar. This can and should be a part of the first set, and perhaps can be pushed up, or opened like a book, or lit now. Scene IV is on the dock, and I’d use a barrel or part of a mast placed way downstage, with Cesar in isolated light by it. Scene V, the bar again.

Honorine’s Kiosk, scene VI, is another part of the first set. So is Panisse’s Sail Shop, scene VII, which again might be pushed forward or isolated in light.

Scene VIII, the wedding, can take place on the waterfront, which is also where Scene IX happens.

So for Act I, the opening set is all-important. It must evoke a place and time, an atmosphere, and be highly functional.

Act II, Scene I, the nursery for birthday number one. Think about playing this in one, on the apron, a small bed of some sort for the unseen child center, surrounded by adults who hide any view of the child. For Scene II, open up the stage picture. A new set occupies the stage for the bulk of this act, Panisse’s lovely home. We should see a living room, windows, a second smaller room adjacent, a door leading outside. This is a long scene, and we’ll quickly return to this set. It must be well done and evocative of the man’s taste and wealth.

Scene III, play the street scene in one, on the apron.

Scene IV, the small, adjacent room, now Cesario’s. Isolate it in light. A homey boy’s bedroom, showing both his mother and father’s careful touch.

Scene V, use the main room to play this out, rather than outdoors, a “circus.”

Scene VI, a garage in Toulon. This can be played on the apron, isolated in light, with a bench, a tool panel (wheeled on). Evoke the place, don’t present it.

Scene VII, “Panisse’s bedroom”. No, make it the main room of his house, have him on a couch.

So there’s just two large sets, one for each act, that can be switched out at Intermission. But these sets must be well-designed and very workable, as well as evocative in art design. A job for an experienced Set Designer.

COSTUMES:

We’re in Marseilles, France, around the 1930s. Costuming should reflect the period, and some poverty overall. The older gentlemen dress well, but most of these people are somewhat poor. Fanny should be attractively if simply dressed. Honorine works to retain an image, and has one fancy dress. The Admiral’s costume should be FRENCH Navy. The leads must have clothes that let them breathe and sing. A job for an experienced Costume Designer.

PROPS:

Baby paraphernalia. A stroller. Bottles and glasses of booze. A few circus props. It’s a wide-ranging show for props, you’ll need an experienced Prop Master.

LIGHTING:

Moods change very rapidly in this show. Action often needs to be isolated. You’ll need to do so without the use of a follow spot (except for the exotic dance number, and then it should be a cheesy spot). Your plot needs to be fairly versatile, though less theatrical than for many other musicals. A job for a reasonably skilled Lighting Designer.

MAKE-UP:

Keep this unobtrusive. Keep the job simple.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Set Designer, Panisse, Cesar.

MY THOUGHTS:
No, I don’t think Fanny is a “great” musical. The score is largely forgettable, as is the case with all of Rome’s scores. But the script is interesting, strong in many ways, with characters well worth playing and sure to attract actors to the five leads, if the actors know about the show. It is an adult show with adult views and sentiments, a rare thing in the Musical Theater. I believe the show is worthy of the occasional, loving production.