"Most Happy Fella" at Goodspeed

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

Is it a drama with music, an operetta, or a musical? It’s hard to decide what to call “The Most Happy Fella” which appropriately closes Goodspeed’s 50th Anniversary season with a colorful, California and Italian-style grape harvest.

Frank Loesser wrote the music and lyrics to this 1956 Broadway show, which is based on the Sidney Howard play, “They Knew What They Wanted.” It’s about a lonely, Italian, grape grower, “Tony” (Bill Nolte) who sets out to marry a much younger waitress, “Rosabella” (Mamie Parris) whom he briefly met in a San Francisco diner. Rob Ruggiero, the show’s director at Goodspeed, calls this work a “musical treatment” because the “world of musical theater and opera magically blend...in this May-December romance.” However, unless you’re a millionaire, a politician, or a movie star, this story’s extreme, love-partnership arrangement may be difficult to accept -- even for more liberal minds. So folks, maybe you need to escape life’s seriousness. Sit back, relax, go back in time and simply enjoy this fairytale for what it is -- entertainment!

Ruggiero is correct when he uses the term “blend.” The nature of the story calls for song-styles and dances from various periods, places, and cultures. Therefore, we have Napa city boys dressed in Western garb singing “Standing on the Corner” and snap tapping to a lindy-hop beat. The opening line continues, “...watching all the girls go by” etc. It was a very big hit during the 50’s (still familiar to a certain crowd) -- but logically, this out-of-place piece of patter could have fit more easily into Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls.” It’s a small complaint, but in any case, this same scene is followed by the melancholy “Joey, Joey,” a who am I, where am I going lament, richly rendered by Doug Carpenter -- who plays Tony’s vineyard foreman and secret rival, “Joe.”

Thanks to choreographer, Parker Esse, we enjoy a lively Tarantella and three, clowning chefs: Daniel Berryman, Greg Roderick, and Martin Sola who are constantly singing while dancing to “Abbondanza” and “Benvenuta” and finally joining the chorus in one grand “Sposalizio.”

As for operatic arias, Tony’s sister, “Marie” (Ann Arvia) fears being replaced as head of the household during her plaintive, “Eyes Like a Stranger” and “Young People.” Parris, who is perfect for the role of the twice-deceived “Rosabella,” sings a tender, “Please Let Me Tell You.” Finally, Tony’s highly emotional arias, “My Heart is So Full of You” and “Momma Momma,” are not the only touching songs Nolte sings. Nolte, who has numerous Broadway and Goodspeed credits, is so full of joy and sadness here, and so warmly Italian, he deserves a separate ovation for each scene he appears in.

This is another, entertaining, vintage piece that Goodspeed produced many years ago, in simpler form, and revived this anniversary season. Enjoy this theatre’s fall harvest of entertainment.

This review appears in “On CT&NY Theatre” - November/2013

 

posted 11.12.13

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