Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The Most Happy Fella
Also see Jeffrey's review of Forbidden Broadway
Broward Stage Door has a checkered history of productions that can be sheer delight or, well, not so. I am delighted to report that their production of Fella is, simply, glorious.
Director Andy Rogow has brought in six leads from out of state and his imports prove to be the anchors for the production. A youthful chorus as well as accompaniment by two pianos, played by a pair of the leading musical directors in South Florida, David Nagy and Michael Ursua, make a dramatic difference as to what we hear. I will take a pair of professional pianists over "tracks" any day.
Based on Sidney Howard's play They Knew What They Wanted, the story is of a lonely, middle-aged Italian immigrant who has a successful orchard in Napa Valley. He is charmed by a lovely waitress while on a trip. Tony then sends Amy, said waitress, a photo of his handsome, young, foreman Joe instead of a self-portrait he feels she would reject. Tony, in his ardor for Amy, re-names her "Rosabella." Rosabella arrives, charmed by the letters Tony has sent (impersonating Joe, who also aided and abetted him by writing most of them, due to Tony's fractured English) as a typical "mail order bride" and the story takes off from there.
Producer Dee Wilson Bunn can be proud of this production. All technical aspects are top drawer. Michael McLain, as always, has designed a beautiful set. The costumes by Jerry Sturdefant are ideal for the era and the minimal choreography by Andy Fiacco is charmingly appropriate.
I saw the show's fourth performance; actors grow in their roles and I intend to view the show again in a few weeks, because I love the piece. As of the performance I attended, the men have the edge. Let me start off with "the most happy fella" himself, played by Kyle Yampiro. Tony is middle-aged, overweight, and quite unattractive. Mr. Yampiro is 28 years old (!), very handsome and slim. With the addition of body padding, proper subtle aging makeup, and a haircut to turn him bald, Mr. Yampiro is astounding in his transformation. His voice is a marvel. His acting flawless. I believed everything he said and did. The songs call for Tony to be enthralled, in love, heartwarming, touching, angry, resigned and, ultimately, forgiving. It's early in the year and I hope the Carbonell Awards voters remember him.
As Joe, Kyle David Pressley has charisma to spare and a beautiful singing voice. He gets to sing the wonderful "Joey, Joey, Joey" and is one of the most natural actors I have seen recently. For comic relief, the role of Herman is pure fun, and Ellington Berg has a ball with it. The most capable dancer in the show, he also has a Texas charm that can't be beat and the right character voice to carry the hit from the show, "Big D." It's a pleasure to see Ardean Landhuis onstage, taking a break from working behind the scenes, in the underwritten role of Doc and he manages to eke out every ounce of humanity and caring with his operatic bass-baritone. Let's hope he decides to concentrate on performing rather than lighting design, which he also did for the show. A word for the trio of signers who, along with Herman, sing "Standing on the Corner": Sean Davis, Rio Peterson, and Steddy Amory blend their harmonies rapturously. The harmonies are plentiful throughout and kudos to musical director David Nagy for working wonders in a two-week rehearsal period.
For the distaff side, our leading lady Shay Weinberg as Rosabella has a beautiful singing voice and over time will find more layers to her complicated character. Mezzo Lisa Franklin as Marie, Tony's straight-talking sister, conveys her frustration and jealousy and manages to take a character that can be more of an interruption and makes her a welcome presence. Cleo is the female comedy role and Kimberly Abrams has a huge belt of a voice. Once she pulls back a tad on the mugging and lets the lines (she is the only one who really has jokes in the script) do the work, she will be perfection.
Director Andy Rogow has done yeoman work here. He was called in late and has molded his cast into a perfect ensemble. Yes, it was only the fourth performance, but everything ran like clockwork. His guiding hand plus the glorious hands of Messrs. Nagy and Ursua, and a hard-working cast (oh, that Mr. Yampiro!) add up to just what South Florida needs, a beautifully sung, Frank Loesser classic. Take yourselves to Stage Door. You'll have a wonderful, wonderful time. Oh, before I forget, bring your Kleenex. I defy anyone to not weep, as I did, at the beautiful "My Heart Is So Full of You" sung beautifully by Mr. Yampiro and Ms. Weinberg.
The Most Happy Fella is playing through February 5th, 2017, at the Broward Stage Door Theatre located at 8036 West Sample Rd. in Pompano, FL. Box office is 954-344-7765. www.stagedoorfl.org.