If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A “Happy” Revival Concludes Goodspeed Season

Only a few weeks remain for the Goodspeed Musical’s splendid season-ending production of “The Most Happy Fella”. Under the assured direction of Rob Ruggiero -- who should probably be directing every musical at the East Haddam theatre -- this moving and beautifully rendered revival ends Goodspeed’s 50th anniversary season on a very high note.

Based on Sidney Howard’s “The Knew What They Wanted” with book, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, “The Most Happy Fella” is a rather unusual addition to the musical theatre canon. Its score blends Broadway with opera with a story that can be surprisingly dark. It concerns a May-December romance between Tony, a likable but aging vineyard owner and Rosabella, a world-weary waitress disappointed in but still waiting for love. When Tony sends Rosabella a photo of his handsome foreman instead of himself, he attempts to lure this “mail-order bride” to his Napa Valley winery. It is a set-up that smacks of farcical misunderstanding. What follows, however, is a mature love story infused with real feeling that resonates long after the initial viewing.

One of the giants of musical theatre, Frank Loesser contributes a near perfect book and score for “Happy Fella” -- one where the music fits naturally and flows meaningfully out of the relationships at the story’s center. There are popular songs like the harmonious “Standing on the Corner” and the boisterous “Abbondanza”, sung as if there were no tomorrow at Goodspeed by a talented trio of male singers. There is also the haunting “Joey, Joey, Joey” and other songs that are notable for their operatic qualities. It all lends weight and purpose to a musical that, even though set in the 1950s, seems immediate and timeless.

As Tony and Rosabella, Bill Nolte and Mamie Parris make for a sublime couple. Nolte, big of voice and heart, leads the townsfolk in a rambunctious rendering of the title song and also makes beautiful music with Parris on “Warm All Over” and the charming “Happy to Make Your Acquaintance”. Parris’ mature beauty is utilized well here and her conflicted feelings between Tony and the rugged foreman, Joe (Doug Carpenter) are deeply felt. As comical counterpoints to Tony and Rosabella’s romance, Kevin Vortmann and Natalie Hill are a delight as another seemingly mismatched couple who find common ground in the second act showstopper, “Big D”. Vortmann’s tall and lanky ranch hand and Hill’s sassy waitress bring boundless enthusiasm and sexy allure to their whirlwind romance.

Mr. Ruggiero’s design team of Michael Schweikardt (scenery), Thomas Charles LeGalley (costumes) and John Lasiter (lighting) have each hit a homerun and Parker Esse provides the requisite magic of choreography on Goodspeed's jewel box stage. All told, “The Most Happy Fella” may be musical schmaltz but it is endearing schmaltz that really works and works beautifully at Goodspeed.

 “The Most Happy Fella” continues at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam through December 1. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 

Posted on 11.18.2013


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