Theater Preview: THE MOST HAPPY FELLA (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

by Jim Allen on August 6, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

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ABBONDONZA

If ever there was a reason to say, “Absolutely, positively, do not miss this event,” this is it. For one night only on Sunday August 19 at 7pm, Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Reading Series offers the final show of its eighth and final season, Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella. While it’s been an incredible run for the series, escalating costs means it’s time to say farewell, but talk about going out with a bang.

This musical masterpiece was first produced at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre on May 3, 1956 and ran 676 performances. Even in a season that included My Fair Lady (the Tony winner that year), Candide, Li’l Abner, and Bells Are Ringing, this magnum opus of the American Musical Theater was hailed as an extraordinary musical drama and a missing link between Broadway and opera (which could easily apply to Candide as well). Composer and librettist Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed) simply called the show a musical comedy “with a lotta music.”

With the incomparable David Lamoureux as director and music director (conducting the 23-piece orchestra), Julie Lamoureux in charge of the vocals, and dances by Daniel Smith, this will be the enchantment of the year.

The plot, drawn from Sidney Howard’s drama They Knew What They Wanted, arcs as intimately as a mini-opera allows. Wonderfully, it provides powerful moments of fully earned heartbreak at non-negotiable intensity. A middle-aged vintner who’s spent his life caring for his overly protective sister, Marie, and developing one of the finest vineyards in northern California, Tony Esposito now wants a wife to share his prosperity and “plenty bambini” to continue the cultivation. But, to disapproving Marie, Tony should be happy just being rich.

After being drawn to a San Francisco waitress, he makes a mail-order marriage proposal to his “Rosabella,” as she will henceforth be named. Imprudently, Tony also sends a false picture, not of his middle-aged self but of handsome farm foreman Joe. The false pretenses are enough to lure Rosabella, and later her Texan best friend Cleo, to Tony’s estate. (Tony’s sad subterfuge, of course, is an old-fashioned case of identity theft, now regularly repeated as “catfishing” on the Internet.)

An accident keeps Tony from enjoying the wedding celebration (“Sposalizio”) he envisions to welcome his fiancée. Perhaps it’s just as well: Rosabella has second thoughts, especially after she meets and yearns for sexy Joe. Just as inevitably, Cleo finds her beau in Herman, an uncharacteristically self-effacing Texan who likes everyone, loves Cleo, and finally conjures up some courage (“I Made a Fist”). (When this comic couple — very reminiscent of Will and Ado Annie in Oklahoma! — celebrate their Dallas origins in the huge production number “Big D,” the world will feel briefly very right for you.)

But, as nomadic as romantic, Joe was born under a wandering star (the haunting “Joey, Joey, Joey”). His bond with Rosabella seems less deep and devoted than her growing attachment to the ardently considerate and ever grateful Tony (“My Heart Is So Full of You”). The genius of this Broadway opera is how it transforms what seemed improbable affection in an impossible liaison into the perfect excuse for harmonic wonders like the Espositos’ “How Beautiful the Days,” the delightful duo “Happy to Make Your Acquaintance,” and the glorious title number.

It’s exactly like Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ode to mature passion or big-nosed Cyrano in Edmond de Rostand’s exploration of the warm core of true love: Tony — the embodiment of love but not sex — and Rosabella — the ultimate “special delivery” — dismiss the illusion of appearance and reinvent love from the inside out.

Starring:
NICHOLAS SAVERINE as Tony Esposito
(Regional: Les MiserablesThe Most Happy Fella)
JILL VAN VELZER as Rosabella
(RRS: The Secret GardenOn the Twentieth Century)
KIM HUBER as Cleo
(RRS: The Goodbye GirlFollies; B’way: Beauty and the BeastSunset Blvd.)
ROGER BEFELER as Herman
(RRS: The Goodbye Girl; Nat’l Tour: Beauty and the Beast; MTW: Into the Woods)
MARY GORDON MURRAY as Marie
(RRS: Pal JoeyPipe Dream; MTW: Sister Act; B’way: Little Me – Tony Nom)
DOUG CARPENTER as JOEY
(MTW: Carousel; B’way: Beautiful; Regional: Oklahoma!South Pacific)
WITH
PAIGE BEFELER * JACKIE COX * BRYAN DOBSON
MICHAEL DOTSON * AMY GLINSKAS * AUSTIN KELLY
JORDAN LAMOUREUX * JEFFREY LANDMAN * CRAIG MCELDOWNEY
ALYSSA SIMMONS * KURT WINTERHALTER
The Most Happy Fella
Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Staged Reading Series
produced by Michael Betts and Gabriel Kalomas
Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton in Long Beach
Sunday, August 19, 2018 at 7
for tickets, call 562.856.1999 x 4 or visit Musical

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