Based on Sidney Howard’s “They Knew What They Wanted.”
Book, Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser.
Directed by Fred Anzevino.
Choreographed by James Beaudry.
Music Direction by Jeremy Ramey.
Produced by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre.
At No Exit Cafe, Chicago.
Fabulous voices fuel Loesser’s “most operatic musical.”
Fred Anzevino’s trade mark style is to take on a giant musical and reduce it to fit his intimate stage without losing the essence of that work. He does it with a small orchestra and with new young talents who can belt tunes without amplification and with each word being understood. His latest project is Frank Loesser’s (Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) The Most Happy Fella. That 1957 show is a “most operatic musical,” an operetta really with 32 musical numbers.
Fella has songs ranging from heavy ballads to up-tempo dance numbers to rich operatic arias to cute harmonic playful tunes. The story is carried onward and the character’s emotional response to the action is clearly rendered with operatic devices such as leitmotifs, recitatives and singing dialogue. Filled with memorable songs like “Somebody, Somewhere,” “Standing On The Corner,” “Joey, Joey, Joey” and “Abbondanza,” Fella has a lush and amazingly innovative score that is structured as both a classic Broadway musical and a modern opera.
In order to make Fella work, it needs three things; a lush score; two, a compelling love story; three, a strong cast of singers with some with operatic voices and others with Broadway styles.
William Roberts, a classically trained opera voice, as the affable mensch Tony—a middle aged farmer in search of love and a wife. Tony’s fear that his waitress love interest, Rosabella (the sweet Molly Hernandez) will reject him if she knew he was old and Italian immigrant. Tony sends Joey’s photo with his love letters. His foreman and hunk, Joey (the powerful voice of Ken Singleton) isn’t aware of the ruse until Rosabella shows up at the Napa Valley farm the night before she is to wed Tony. The deception unfolds in a workable story.
Fella is about love and forgiveness as it plays out in spirited celebrations featuring rich vocals from Roberts, Hernandez and Singleton.The songs offer a fine blend of styles from light comic to lush opera to haunting love songs. Fred Anzevino’s efficient use of the stage at No Exit Cafe contains a polish presentation with energetic choreography, cute comedic bits and stirring emotions come through smartly and flawlessly. Jeremy Ramey’s piano, violin, viola and cello orchestra produced a lush sound.
As impressive as the singers are here, especially Courtney Jones as Cleo with her Ethel Merman like vocal range and the three Chefs: Erick Dohner, Roy brown and Jonathan Wilson, The Most Happy Fella is a “star vehicle” for the power baritone William Roberts who uses his operatic experience to sing Tony superbly. Roberts is a fine, even lovable Tony. We also love Herman ( a winning turn by Joe Giovannetti) as the man who always smiles since nothing ever bothers him.
The story is a touching love story, a fine romantic operetta with intense dramatic arias and splashy Broadway tunes. You’ll love these characters and you’ll admire their stage craft and, of course, their strong singing. The Most Happy Fella is a blend of art and entertainment as the fabulous singing carries you off an a romantic trip to the wineries of Napa Valley. This is a first class version of Loesser’s “magnus opus” that will impress and engage you from the start. Kudos to Theo Ubique for mounting such a wonderful (and difficult to cast) operatic musical. Come hear terrific voices sing a lush score and enjoy am old fashion romantic love story. You leave No Exit Cafe feeling good and entertained. That’s what excellent live stage shows do.
Date Reviewed: March 13, 2017.
For more info checkout The Most Happy Fella page at theatreinchicago.com.
At No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, Chicago, Il, call 800-595-4849, www.theo-u.com, tickets $34 – $39 ( 44 discount for seniors and students), Thursday thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through May 7, 2017.