The Most Happy Fella: a lesson in unconditional loveReview
Skylark Opera Theatre’s production of The Most Happy Fella spread smiles at The Historic Mounds Theatre in St. Paul Friday night. I am a big fan of golden-age musicals, and there are so many great ones that are lost in the shuffle. The Most Happy Fella is certainly among them.
Written by Guys and Dolls’ Frank Loesser, I expected it to be simple and toe-tapping. (don’t get me wrong - I love Guys and Dolls!) The two grand pianos that served as Skylark’s fearless orchestra, music direction by Carson Schneider, provided a sound not of the fun loving Runyon musical, but a mixture of Rodgers and Hammerstein with a dash of Leoncavallo.
The exposition introduces the female lead, Rosabella (real name Amy), and her best friend from Dallas, Cleo. Rosabella is expertly acted by Sarah Lawrence. Ms. Lawrence brings deep emotions to the abridged work that made up for the lost scenes; her commitment fleshes out the drama. From what I understand, this was a much longer show, pared down to two acts while retaining a plot that in itself is very operatic: Girl tricked by man but still marries him, girl sleeps with man’s friend, girl gets pregnant and tells her husband the truth.
The lusty belting and southern drawl are a surprise to the opera goer in me.
The nice part about this musical is there’s a happy-ever-after ending. Rosabella/Amy realizes that Tony is a wonderful man, and he forgives her. As Laurel Armstrong sang Cleo’s first number, I was struck by the cross of Ado Annie and Nellie Forbush that sprang from the stage. Ms. Armstrong undoubtedly brings her own fresh interpretation to the character, but the lusty belting and southern drawl are a surprise to the opera goer in me. The typical subplot of another fun loving couple common for musicals of this time was entertaining and fresh, Cleo’s love interest was Herman (sung by Phinehas Bynum).
The title character of Tony was played by Bill Marshall. His command of the stage was palpable and he brought the “dumb and old” character to life. Tony’s sister Marie is played by KrisAnne Weiss. The Foreman of Tony’s ranch, Joe, is played by Justin Spenner. The highlight of the ensemble was Christina Christensen. Ms. Christensen brought a reserved elegance to the stage suiting the genre, as well as spot on vocals. Skylark always has bare bone sets (though the costumes were a plus), but the lighting was a very nice addition - when evil sister Marie comes out to show her true feelings about the situation, a green light takes over the stage.
Such a heartwarming show, I feel lucky to have seen it live. I hope Skylark continues to fill this niche market of bringing forgotten classics to light. Tony’s line “I don’ know not’ing about you, where you been, what you done, I don’ gotta know.” A beautiful lesson of unconditional love that the world always needs to hear.