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Writer Jeannine Dominy on the story behind the story of 'Dangerous Beauty'

February 12, 2011 |  9:00 am

 DangerousJeannine Dominy learned of Veronica Franco 17 years ago while looking at books that might make a good screenplay. Her interest was piqued by "The Honest Courtesan," USC professor Margaret F. Rosenthal's 1992 study of the life and writings of Franco, a Venetian courtesan and poet.

"Veronica was a proto-feminist who used her writing to further herself," says Dominy. "Here was a woman in the 16th century who said give women weapons to match men and we will be their equals."

Blending fact and fiction, Dominy crafted a tale about an independent-minded heroine who, after her family lost its fortune, pursued what she may have seen as her best chance at making her way in a man's world. In Venice, courtesans were educated, traveled in elite circles and were allowed to visit libraries and salons and given other opportunities usually denied to the sheltered wives of gentlemen. Franco's skill at verse and seduction brought her fame and influence but did not shield her from heartbreak and peril.

Dominy's story reached the big screen in "Dangerous Beauty," a 1998 New Regency/Warner Bros. film. Now, a new musical inspired by the movie and the book is opening at the Pasadena Playhouse on Sunday. The show, which stars Jenny Powers, is directed by Sheryl Kaller and features music by Michele Brourman, lyrics by Amanda McBroom and a script by Dominy.

While the cinematic version ended up being "happier and more Hollywood" than she would have liked, she says the musical "has let us go much more to the political and the feminist and be more honest than the movie."

For Dominy, the biggest challenge was "writing about a woman who sold herself sexually. I did the only thing I could. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed she was a woman of some moral compass who, when you ask, 'Why would she do this?, ' I thought, well, she thought it could give her access to education."

To create her Franco, the New York writer combined extensive research and advice from Rosenthal ("she knows Veronica better than anyone") with "a modern sensibility" and her own imaginings. "When you write about history, real lives don't fit neatly into dramatic structures. You also don't know what people really said or did day to day."

"I took the idea of this woman and the basic facts of her life," says Dominy, "and tried to use them to tell a story that offered insight into what women endured and what the similarities are to society now."

To find out more about the musical "Dangerous Beauty" click here to read the feature in Sunday's Arts & Books.

-- Karen Wada

Photo: James Snyder as Marco Venier and Jenny Powers as Veronica Franco in "Dangerous Beauty" at the Pasadena Playhouse. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times