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A CurtainUp Review
Encores! The Most Happy Fella

Standing on the corner
Watching all the girls go by
Brother you don't know
A nicer occupation

Matter of fact neither do I
— Lyric from The Most Happy Fella's the show stopping "Standing on the Corner."
Laura Benanti and Shuler Hensley (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Casey Nicholas's superb Encores! production of The Most Happy Fella left both the fellas and gals in the audience mighty happy. That includes this gal who's happy she took time out from all the new shows opening during the annual pre-Tony Awards crush to see Frank Loesser's 1956 musical. To paraphrase one of Loesser's many delightful ballads, if you nab a ticket during the all too brief run, you'll be "happy to make its acquaintance (or, if you've seen it before, "re-acquaintance").

This is the biggest, most close to perfection Encores! production I've seen in a while: 38 strong in Rob Berman's on stage orchestra, and 38 in a cast bursting with talent.

Shuler Hensley, Laura Benanti and Cheyenne Jackson are perfection — Hensley as Tony, the older Napa Valley farmer who "talks funny". . .Laura Benanti as the much younger waitress he calls Rosabella and woos with a picture of his handsome young foreman Joe. . .and Jackson as that handsome dude with whom Tony's Rosabella has a one night fling after the shock and disappointment of discovering who the real Tony is. (Contrived? Sure, but no more so and easier to believe than Indina Menzel finding herself in a similar fix despite a ticking biological clock in the newly minted musical If Then).

These seasoned Broadway thespians lend glorious voices to this genre defying but gorgeous musical's challenging mix of opera arias and catchy golden era show tunes. The other key players are also standouts, especially Heidi Blickenstaff as Rosabella's feisty friend Cleo who delivers the delightful first song "Ooh! My Feet and Jessica Molaskey as Tony's possessive sister Marie who delivers the title song with Hensley.

The catchy "Standing On the Corner" and "Abbondanza" are irresistible. But whether in operatic recitative numbers, in trios, quartets, duets, solos or full ensemble numbers, this is a melodic feast unlike anything currently on offer on Broadway.

Thanks to director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who also choreographed long running super hit Book of Mormon and the recently opened Aladdin, this Most Happy Fella has more vibrant dancing than any other versions I've seen. The choreography is especially impressive, consider that these large ensemble numbers work beautifully on the relatively small footprint available given the band's traditional on stage position

Loesser's best known show, Guys and Dolls never suffered from a genre identity crisis. Though The Most Happy Fella had a respectable premiere run of 676 performances on Broadway, revival attempts have been short lived. Given the successful recent revival of another operatic musical, Porgy and Bess, is a transfer of this production mere wishful thinking? I'd say, keep wishing, but don't miss out on seeing it now.

The Most Happy Fella
Book, music, and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Music direction by Rob Berman
Cast: Laura Benanti (Rosabella), Shuler Hensley (Tony),Cheyenne Jackson (Joe), Heidi Blickenstaff (Ceo), Brian Cali (Ciccio), Bradley Dean (Giuseppe), Zachary James (Pasquale), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Herman), Jessica Molaskey (Marie), Kevin Vortmann (The Doctor); plus Ensemble
Lighting: Ken Billington
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Scenic Consultant: John Lee Beatty
Costume Consultant: Greg Barnes
Original Orchestration: Don Walker
Stage Manager: Karen Moore
Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission
New York City Center 130 W 55th St
From April 2 to April 6, 2014
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on April 3

Song List Act One: Overture; Ooh! My Feet!; Somebody, Somewhere; The Most Happy Fella; Standing On The Corner; Joey, Joey, Joey; Rosabella; Abbondanza; Sposalizio; Benvenuta; Don't Cry
Act Two Song List: Prelude;Fresno Beauties; Happy To Make Your Acquaintance; Big D; How Beautiful The Days; Young People; Warm All Over; I Like Everybody; My Heart is so Full of You; Mamma, Mamma; Song of a Summer Night; Please Let Me Tell You; Finale
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