The Most Happy Fella

by Stu Brown

The Most Happy Fella is not your typical big, splashy Goodspeed Opera House production. The musical, with a book and score by Frank Loesse,r is also unlike his better known shows such as Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Nonetheless, the show, smaller in scope, is engaging, big-hearted, and wholly satisfying, well-worth the drive to the East Haddam playhouse.

The story, crafted by Loesser from the play They Knew What They Wanted, is simple enough. Tony, a successful Napa Valley grape grower, an Italian immigrant, portly, not very handsome, who speaks in broken English, is smitten by a lovely waitress he has only glimpsed. Through a months-long letter writing courtship, and a bit of deception by the vineyard owner, Rosabella, the object of his affection, agrees to travel to his sumptuous farm to become his bride. This sets in motion a series of events that encompass love, relationships, heartbreak, trust, and, finally, redemption.

The strength of the Goodspeed’s production is the casting. Every performer perfectly embodies their character. I cannot remember a show that was so successful in this regard.  Standouts include Tony, played by Bill Nolte, who is the anchor of the show. He successfully imbues the role with a wide range of emotions and traits. We feel his pains and joys. Mamie Parris as Rosabella, the love of Tony’s life, is sweet, radiant and determined with a delicate, but strong voice. Natalie Hill as her best friend, Cleo, is vivacious, impetuous, and passionate. Men beware! Doug Carpenter as the farm’s foreman, Joe, is a brooding, wayward soul. Think James Dean or a young Steve McQueen. Last, the three Italian cooks, portrayed by Greg Roderick, Daniel Berryman, and Michael Deleget, provide great comedic moments in their two firs- act songs.

The score by Frank Loesser, not as rollicking and brash as his more well-known shows, is, nonetheless a musical feast. It features many musical styles including heartfelt ballads (“Somebody, Somewhere”), barbershop quartet (“Standing on the Corner”), the humorous (“Happy to Make Your Acquaintance”), and the lively (“Big D”). Different from his other works, The Most Happy Fella is mostly sung through. However, there is a considerable amount of dialogue that effectively bridges the songs unlike, for example, an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Parker Esse provides more incidental choreographic flourishes to the show. However, when called upon, as with the rousing “Big D,” he guides the cast through an energetic and spirited production number.

Rob Ruggiero, who has successfully directed numerous Goodspeed musicals, skillfully balances the various tonal moods of the show. In addition to the large-scale scenes, he demonstrates his sure-handedness and aplomb with the material through the more intimate and reserved moments of the musical.

The Most Happy Fella, a triumphant success to round out the Goodspeed Opera House’s 50th Anniversary season, runs through December 1st.

 

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