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Dangerous Beauty

This intelligent musical about a 16th-century Venetian courtesan might realize its full potential with further development. logo
Hollis Resnik and Jenny Powers in Dangerous Beauty
(© Tommy Giglio)
The American Music Theatre Project of Northwestern University is presenting the world premiere of Amanda McBroom, Michele Brourman, and Jeanine Dominy's musical Dangerous Beauty as a developmental production, but it's a lavishly realized one, thanks in part to an extraordinary team of designers, not to mention such gifted artists as choreographer Robert La Fosse and orchestrator John McDaniel. But as much as I love richly-costumed plays that plunk me down in some past era, I was more engaged by the intelligence of the work than by its emotions, which is not the best way to respond to a musical.

The show is based on Margaret Rosenthal's book The Honest Courtesan, a fictionalized biography of Veronica Franco (Jenny Powers), a 16th-century courtesan of Venetian nobility, a published poet of distinction, and the subject of a Tintoretto portrait. The politics and society of that time and place were intricate to say the least, colored by the wealthy city's military fortunes, licentiousness, and skirmishes with the Spanish Inquisition, and the show conveys all the required information surprisingly well (save for an out-of-place Act II scene of political discussion among women).

Still, Act I is exposition-heavy, while Act II is an avalanche of action. Moreover, the show too often tells -- rather than shows -- its attitudes about love and passion, so the audience is never swept away. Most keenly, Veronica and her paramour Marco (the tall and handsome Jason Heymann) already are in love at the start, where it might be more interesting to see them fall in love.

The score is pleasant and sometimes grand, but only five of the 22 numbers struck me as notable. By and large, it's rather generic pop stuff built on chords and rhythms rather than on memorable melodies, and has little emotional weight. The stand-out numbers in Act I are the villain's sardonic character song and a waltz for a chorus of courtesans, while the big quintet that closes the act is notable more as an intentional echo of opera, rather than as a soaring musical moment. Act II offers the show's loveliest tune, "How Do I Tell Her That," as well as Veronica's big power ballad, "I Do Not Repent My Life." Fortunately, there's plenty of color to the Renaissance-flavored orchestrations, which often sound like lute or harp, reeds, and viola da gamba.

Still, for all its flaws, Dangerous Beauty is a smart show with a strong story, crafted by a gifted collaborative team. It might realize its full potential with further development.

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