The Sound of Fannie Takes Some Hard Swipes at Gooey Musicals
Two things could happen for Jeff Swearingen at his low-budget Fun House Theatre in Plano. He'll either get one of those MacArthur "genius grants" for his innovative and boldly un-P.C. approach to children's theater or the parents of Plano will form an angry mob wielding torches and pitchforks and run him out of town.
Swearingen and co-producer Bren Rapp have created their funniest and most subversively satirical show yet with the premiere of The Sound of Fannie, a send-up of gooey family-friendly musicals like Annie and The Sound of Music. They observe that too many Broadway classics seem to wind up with a nice girl marrying a rich but horrible man and calling it a happy ending. Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. Anna and the King of Siam. Maria and Tony. No, wait ...
With a book by Swearingen and lyrics by Rapp and James Chandler (who also directed), Fannie is the anti-musical musical. "Dreams aren't real and never come true," snarls pigtailed moppet Fannie (adorably evil-eyed Lizzy Greene). She's an orphan because she's murdered her parents. Stuck into a miserable convent/orphanage, Fannie, wearing that iconic little red dress, leads the kiddies in a parody of Bob Fosse's wiggly-armed "All That Jazz" from Chicago. (Choreography by Katelyn Harris and Megan Kelly Bates is terrific throughout. They've given the young performers lots of tough routines that the cast nails like old pros.)
Fannie bonds with novice nun Maria (Sophia Kaiafas), who twirls around meadows singing "The hills are alive/with hallucinations." She's a kookybird with a trilling soprano and an I.Q. barely room temp. Fannie convinces Maria to lure Austrian mogul Captain Von Warprofit (Tex Patrello as a combo of Captain von Trapp and Daddy Warbucks) away from his gold-digging fiancée, Elka (leggy Laney Neumann). The captain's children march in wearing outfits made of upholstery fabric (later, homicidal Fannie offs them one by one). Daffy Uncle Max (Doak Rapp, a handsome teen with the soul of a vaudevillian) joins the Nazi party singing "The Aryan Brotherhood of Men," a takeoff of a number from How to Succeed in Business.
Somehow Swearingen gets away with all of it as his 35-member cast of kids and teens tap-dance as happy Hitler Youth, make fun of trophy wives and the rich bastards they're married to, portray nuns as booze-sodden harpies, take a few slaps at stage mommies pushing tots into showbiz and turn Wicked's "Defying Gravity" into an ode to puking. It's Springtime for Hitler meets Glee with a side trip to Avenue Q.
The show is a half hour and three musical numbers too long, but that's a minor quibble about something as delightfully performed (by kids!) and perversely entertaining as The Sound of Fannie.
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