A CurtainUp Review
The Most Happy Fella
By Elyse Sommer
The gifted and versatile Loesser (Where's Charley?, Guys and Dolls, Greenwillow, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) based his depression era May-September sweet yet melodramatic love story on Sidney Howard’s play They Knew What They Wanted. Its blend of operatic arias, duets and lively Broadway production numbers made it a perfect choice for DiCapo Opera Theatre since this intimate and affordable alternative to the Met, always includes a Broadway linked production in its schedule.
I came down with a bad cold and was therefore unable to catch the show when it played its usual all too brief run last spring. But a rave review by The New York Times music critic prompted the company to bring back The Most Happy Fella for an unprecedented for them four-week run. And so, to begin my review after attending the June 14th opening, thank you Mr. Tommasini.
For theater goers who've been less than most happy fellas or gals with the over-amplification common along the Great White Way, and even Off-Broadway, it will be a special treat to hear Loesser's songs coming pure and clear from the singers' mouths. It's the inclusion of several "unplugged" numbers have been such a popular element in Scott Siegel's Broadway by the Year Concerts at the Town Hall. But there's nothing occasional about the au naturel sound at the DiCapo Theater. As all the venue's 200 seats provide excellent sight lines, so the natural singing applies to each and every song.
Naturally doing justice to Loesser's i diverse and soaring score requires performers with powerful vocal chops. What's more they must also be able to portray their characters with warmth and believability. Happily Michael Cordino is a powerful baritone and also manages to give the aging Italian immigrant the qualities to make his popularity with his Napa valley neighbors and his happy ending love affair with Rosabella, his young mail order bride believable. Molly Mustonen too sings gorgeously and acts well. Their charming "Happy to Make Your Acquaintance" and poignant "My Heart Is So Full of You" duets are superb. Still, it's easy to see why Rosabella is initially disappointed when it turns out that the picture Tony sent her with his proposal was really of Joe, his tall and dashing foreman. Peter Kendall Clark fits the bill very well indeed, and he's no slouch in the singing department either. His "Don't Cry" is one of the show's best ballads.
But good as Corvino and Mustonen are, it's Lauren Hoffmeir as Rosabella's friend Cleo and Brance Cornelius's Herman, the almost too good-natured fellow Texan she meets when Tony invites her to join Rosabella in Napa, who almost steal the show. Numbers like their delightful "Big D" give this production a strong Broadway musical flavor. In fact, though this is first and foremost an opera company, in this production the Broadway-ish scenes featuring Hoffmeir, Cornelius and the ensemble work best to fill out the stage. The fairly bare bones staging often has the singers of the more operatic arias, looking a bit lonely on a stage with very little scenery.
While previous Dicapo musicals I've seen have often featured more elaborate scenery, director Michal Capasso has here taken a cue from the popular Encores! Concerts, placing the Pacien Mazzagatti's excellent 32-piece orchestra right on stage, behind the performers and having the performers move the simple props on and off stage as they enter and exit. Except for those few times when Tony and Rosabella seem a bit lost on the otherwise empty stage, the simple staging works quite well.
Amusingly and well sung showstoppers beside the already mentioned Standing on the Corner" is Cleo's "Ooh! My Feet!" the amusing "Abbondanza " by the chefs preparing a celebratory party feast. The chorus isn't going to win a Fred Astaire award for dancing, but they dance exactly as people in a farm community like this would dance.
In the most operatic roles, Lisa Chavez and Michael Hopewell are fine as Tony's possessive sister Marie and the doctor who must tell Rosabella that her one night of succumbing to Joe's charms has had devastatingly unintended consequences. But not to worry. As I already mentioned, this is a feel good show - that leaves Tony and Rosabella happily united — and everyone in the audience happy to have made their acquaintance.
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