Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Regional Reviews by Zander Opper

The Most Happy Fella
Goodspeed Opera House

Also see Fred's review of Macbeth

Mamie Parris and Bill Nolte
Abbondanza! Frank Loesser's 1956 musical, The Most Happy Fella, as presented by the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, is, quite simply, glorious from beginning to end. "Abbondanza" is a song title from the show that heralds a celebration and it strikes me as the only possible reaction to the wondrous achievement the Goodspeed Opera House has accomplished. Directed with a fine hand by Rob Ruggiero and performed by a multi-talented cast, The Most Happy Fella is a demanding, near operatic musical that I would never think would truly work outside a Broadway-sized theater or presented by an opera company. Still, even on the relatively small stage of the Goodspeed Opera House, this is a very full evening of music and dance that does full justice to the show. And it's not just in the big moments that this revival succeeds—even in the more intimate scenes, there is a level of craft and care here that is just astonishing. The Most Happy Fella, at the Goodspeed Opera House, stands as a must see and a testament to the grand accomplishment of Frank Loesser's musical.

Before I throw my hat in the air again, I will confess that I am familiar with The Most Happy Fella, from the complete, indispensible 1956 original cast recording and the treasured video clips of the original production of numbers that exist from "The Ed Sullivan Show" (and that can be viewed at the Paley Center in New York City). It is surprising how precisely and successfully this current revival at Goodspeed managed to nearly erase all of my previous exposure to the show.

One thing that this production gets gloriously right is the casting of the two major roles. Without giving too much away, The Most Happy Fella concerns the relationship between a middle-aged man and a much younger woman who meet by sending postcards to each other. These leading roles demand a level of singing that is almost operatic, but, for the story to fully work, we must also care about them as people, too. Tony is portrayed by Bill Nolte, in an extremely well-sung and acted performance and, likewise, Mamie Parris is superb as Rosabella, as well. Besides being able to hit all the high notes (as they must) of what can be considered Broadway musical "arias," the performers also shine in the quieter moments. One can always see the various, sometimes conflicted, emotions on their faces as the story unfolds, and it is in this careful attention to detail that the production truly draws the audience in.

This is not to say that the big musical moments don't work, as well, for they truly shake the theater. The duets, "Happy to Make Your Acquaintance" and especially "My Heart Is So Full of You" have always been personal favorites, but Bill Nolte brings such power to his solo, "Mamma, Mamma," that he moved me to tears. Similarly, Mamie Parris glows in the early "Somebody, Somewhere" and then, later, spreads gorgeousness throughout the house in the second act "Warm All Over."

The supporting characters also have their opportunities to shine. In the more conventionally musical comedy part of Cleo, Natalie Hill is a delight throughout, especially in the wonderful production number "Big 'D'" (exuberantly staged by choreographer Parker Esse), which she shares with the adorable Kevin Vortmann as her love interest Herman. In the crucial role of Joe, Doug Carpenter is suitably good looking and brings rich, darker tones to his numbers "Joey, Joey, Joey" and "Don't Cry." Even Michael Deleget, as Doc, does a beautiful "Song of a Summer Night," and the trio of Greg Roderick, Daniel Berryman, and Martin Sola, as Italian chefs, are pretty fabulous in the numbers "Sposalizio" and the aforementioned "Abbondanza." In the part of Marie, Tony's overprotective sister, Ann Arvia brings a lovely voice to "Eyes Like a Stranger" and "Young People."

And I haven't even gotten to how beautiful The Most Happy Fella looks throughout, too, thanks to scenic designer Michael Schweikardt and costume designer Thomas Charles LeGalley—the sets and costumes manage to transport the audience to another era and even the backdrops seem to shimmer. Also, Michael O'Flaherty is the fine conductor of a terrific band, playing Dan DeLange's loving orchestrations. The biggest hero of the evening is director Rob Ruggiero, who elicits superb performances from the entire cast, and his pacing of the show feels exactly right. By all means, catch this wonderful The Most Happy Fella at the Goodspeed Opera House. Oh, and be sure to bring tissues, too.

The Most Happy Fella continues performances at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut through December 1st. For tickets, please visit www.goodspeed.org or call (860) 873-8668.

Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Zander Opper