This intelligent musical about a 16th-century Venetian courtesan might realize its full potential with further development.
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.