Book, Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser.
Based on “They Knew What They Wanted,” by Sidney Howard.
Directed by Andrew Rogow.
at Stage Door Theatre, Margate, FL.
The Most Happy Audience.
According to an apocryphal tale, Frank Loesser’s mother preferred the work
of his classical pianist brother Arthur to Frank’s Broadway musicals.
That, supposedly, was the impetus for Frank’s taking the high road by
blending songs redolent of opera with catchy show tunes when he created
“The Most Happy Fella.” True or not, this ambitious choice was a brilliant
one and became a groundbreaking inspiration for those who later staged
such works as “Evita” and “Les Miserables.”
Written in 1956, but based on the Sidney Howard’s earlier 1924 Pulitzer
Prize winning play, “They Knew What They Wanted,” the story line also
echoes “Cyrano de Bergerac” with a plot centering on romantic
substitution. In an era prior to cell phones and social media, a
disenchanted waitress in San Francisco,”Rosabella” (Shay Weinberg), is
left an amazing tip and an even more amazing love note from Tony Esposito
(Kyle Yampiro), a satisfied customer she cannot remember. A correspondence
ensues with her ultimately traveling to meet this successful immigrant
farmer living in Napa Valley. Tony is far from a romantic figure. He is
short, plump, speaks broken English, and is a quite a bit older, tempting
him to send her a picture of his handsome, younger, virile foreman Joe
(Kyle David Pressley) instead of his own. What will happen when the three
of them meet? That’s the story!
Paralleling this romance is a comic subplot between her feisty waitress
friend Cleo (Kimberly Abrams) and mild-mannered farm hand Herman
(Ellington Berg). Berg nearly steals the show as a happy-go-lucky guy
whose good humor remains forever unshaken.
While “The Most Happy Fella” has been called “the most operatic of classic
American Musicals,” Loesser cleverly interweaves down-to-earth subjects.
Cleo soaks her tired feet in a basin of water while singing about how
painful they are, farm hands stand on a corner singing “Watching All the
Girls Go By, ” Rosebella and Tony perform a hilarious duet in “Happy to
Make your Acquaintance,” and Herman is dazzled when he learns how to make
a fist and sings a tribute to his hand.
High praise to choreographer Andy Fiacco, costume designer Jerry
Sturdefant, and a talented cast which does justice to songs which
primarily center on emotion rather than comedy. They move the plot along
so well that it is easy to forget they are singing. Tony and Rosabella
seem real — genuine people with genuine problems. We are captured and
held by their story which — with many twists and turns — runs the gamut
of feelings. Yampiro creates a most appealing Tony, a man filled with hope
and fear, as he experiences all the joys and torments of this May
-December romance. Kudos also to Lisa Franklin, as Marie, his interfering,
“The Most Happy Fella” has received very apt praise: “Musical Theater by,
for and about grown-ups!”
Beverly Friend PHD, Member of American Theater Critics Assn.
Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Margate, Fl
33065. 954-344-7765 .Tickets $38-42 , 8 p.m. Friday
and Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, through Feb 5 Run
time two and a half hours with a 15 minute intermission.