The Most Happy Fella
By Roz Friedman
Forgive me, if I wax rhapsodic! But the new production of The Most Happy Fella at Goodspeed is so sublime, I must sing its praises. It is only playing through Dec 1; Directed by Rob Ruggiero, a true genius of this genre, and a gifted cast starring Bill Nolte, whose voice is spectacular, and persona perfection, it should play forever. (Nolte reminds us of Ernest Borgnine.)
Frank Loesser was a great musical comedy writer, who took on all jobs: Music, Lyrics and Book. This one is based on Sidney Howard's play, They knew What They Wanted. It was presented early on by The Theatre Guild and rewritten in 1956 for a delightful Broadway production that featured opera star Robert Weede and Jo Sullivan; she became Loesser's second wife in 1959 and has continued his legacy since his early death at the age of 59 in 1969. Goodspeed's award-winning revival in 1991 using just a two piano accompaniment that Loesser envisioned was lovely.
This present Goodspeed production is touched by a golden harvest glow. With costumes by Thomas Charles Le Galley, Michael Schweikardt's luscious set depicting the wine country of Napa Valley, lit by John Lasiter, is warm and inviting. Surrounded by grapes and vines, Rosabella, the blond Mamie Parris, who sings like a bird of paradise, has answered a love letter from Tony, played by Nolte. We first meet her and and her friend, Cleo, the cute Natalie Hill, when they are working together in a Diner in San Francisco. As Cleo massages her sore toes and sings, “Oooh, My Feet!” Rosabella wonders who will love her in, “Somebody, Somewhere.” Suddenly, she finds a tie pin and proposal of marriage and she's off to find her new husband.
In the meantime, Tony, an older, heavy-set man, who thinks he is ugly, sends a photo of Joe, his good-looking young foreman, handsome Doug Carpenter, to Rosabella. When she arrives, she has a quick fling with Joe, while Tony is injured badly in a car crash. During his recuperation, Rosabella really falls in love with this good-hearted man. However, at the best moment of their relationship, Rosabella finds out she is pregnant. The end is a sweet one. Despite his hurt feelings, Tony accepts Rosabella's baby as his own.
The plot is a little Soap-operish, but the music is passionate and tuneful. “The Most Happy Fella,” “Standing on the Corner,” sung by a captivating quartet (Vortmann, Lindgren, Ulloa and Aberlin), “Joey,” “Happy to Make Your Acquaintance,” and “Big 'D'” are all winners. Choreography by Parker Esse is charmingly light-hearted.
The Most Happy Fella -- pure pleasure at Goodspeed
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO