Most Happy Fella
By Tom Nissley
Frank Loesser’s wonderful musical about what can go wrong when you use somebody else’s picture in a singles ad is playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through December 1. It is chock full of great music, great dancing, and beautiful sets and costumes, and unless you’re just not a happy type yourself, guaranteed to please.
The cast is so well chosen that the story just unfolds as it should, under the handsome direction of Rob Ruggerio. Bill Nolte plays Tony Esposito, the friendly farmer who sets up the scam mailing. Ann Arvia his sister, Marie. Mamie Parris is Rosabella. Natalie Hill is Cleo. Kevin Vortmann is Herman. Doug Carpenter is Joey. Martin Sola, Greg Roderick, and Daniel Berryman are the trio of kitchen folk who perform the spectacular ‘Abondaza.’ They are all excellent actors and singers with operatic voices who carry the story from one special song to the next and the next, just as Loesser intended.
The tale begins in a little diner in San Francisco where Cleo sings about the perils of being a waitress (“Oh my feet” -- a fabulous aria complete with five piggys). Her colleague Rosabella has gotten an interesting tip. It’s a valuable tie-pin with a note on a napkin telling her how pretty she is and that he’d like to see her again. But she doesn’t know who left it for her. Soon, however, a letter arrives from Tony -- a prosperous farmer in the vineyards in the Napa Valley. She writes back. He writes back. She sends him a picture. He proposes marriage and he sends a picture. She agrees, and takes the train to the valley. What could go wrong? Nothing. But there are a few flies in the ointment.
Loesser’s story has Tony being a number of years older than Rosabella. He’s already well cared for at home by his sister Marie, who doesn’t want to lose her place as the lady of the ranch. AND… Tony was not wanting to send his own picture, so he sent a picture of his very handsome young foreman, Joey, who was moving on anyway, but not quite fast enough. When Tony drove his truck into a ditch on the way to meet Rosabella’s train, breaking a hip and several ribs, he arrived late for the welcoming party in an ambulance and a very puzzled Rosabella met a casual Joey who she thought had stood her up at the depot. Now it gets complicated. An old man wrapped in bandages pleads with Rosabella to marry him quickly. (She does it). Marie sings about why this is a terrible mistake. And after the commotion has subsided and they are left alone together, Joey and Rosabella have some moments of pure -- my word -- physical attraction. Honestly, that’s easier to deal with in today’s staging, but when this show first hit Broadway, the attraction was still considered pretty impure. It could, then or now, have been forgotten, if Rosabella had not, a few weeks later, had a strange sickness and some fainting spells, which turned out to be a baby growing inside her. Whoops. Tony, who she has come to love, has never been out of his cast or his wheelchair. What now?
Of course I won’t tell you the rest. But I already said you’ll like it, and you will. “The Most Happy Fella” is up to the high standards that Goodspeed always offers. It runs through November right up to December 1. Tickets and information at www.goodspeed.org
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre