Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"The Most Happy Fella" - A Reading by Second Fiddle Productions

Wikipedia says Frank Loesser was "an American songwriter who wrote the lyrics and music to the Broadway hits Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, among others." I, like many people, have seen and love both of these shows (click on above titles for details of how I love them). But I had never seen or even really heard of The Most Happy Fella, one of those "among others" that Loesser wrote (and for which he also wrote the book). What a perfect choice, then, for Second Fiddle Productions, "a reading series that breathes life into uncommon and rarely produced musicals." Last night they presented a one-night only reading of the show at Camp Bar, featuring some of the Twin Cities brightest music-theater talent. And I'm so glad they did so that I could experience this lovely musical!

The Most Happy Fella is a love story, if a bit of an unusual one. It goes something like this: boy (Tony, played by Bill Marshall) meets girl (called Rosabella, played by Elizabeth Reese) in a San Francisco restaurant and leaves her a tie pin and a love note instead of a tip, girl doesn't remember boy but begins a correspondence with him, boy is afraid girl will reject him so he sends her a photo of a younger boy (Joe, played by Aleks Knezevich), girl agrees to marry boy and arrives at his Napa farm, girl is disappointed that boy lied to her and has a dalliance with the younger boy, boy and girl fall in love, girl finds out she's pregnant with younger boy's baby, boy is crushed but ultimately decides he loves girl and accepts the baby as his own (that last bit is actually very similar to a current storyline on The Bold and the Beautiful). A little convoluted, but it's actually a very sweet love story.

The most well-known song in the score is "Standing on the Corner," which doesn't sound as much like sexual harassment when sung in sprightly four-part harmony. A few of the other songs seemed vaguely familiar to me, but most of the songs I had never heard before. The show skews towards the opera end of the music-theater spectrum, about which Loesser said "I may give the impression the show has operatic tendencies. If people feel that way - fine. Actually all it has is a great frequency of songs. It's a musical with music." There's definitely an operatic feel to the score - sweeping and romantic with soaring melodies. The hero of the story, Tony, is an Italian immigrant, so some of the songs are partly in Italian, which only makes it more fancy. But mixed in with this opera-like music are some down home Country-Western feeling songs, both on the Napa farm and when Rosabella's friend Cleo is talking about her hometown, "Big D (Little-A Double-L-A-S)." It's a strange and lovely mix of musical styles that's quite pleasant to listen to.

the cast of The Most Happy Fella (photo by Second Fiddle)
Also quite pleasant to listen to is this 13-person cast crammed on the small stage at Camp Bar, accompanied by a 4-piece band. Even though they have the script and score in front of them, they all give full performances not just of the music, but also of the emotions of the characters. And many of them are doing this on their day off! On stage were Ruthie Baker (Artistic Director) and Adam Qualls, currently appearing in the fabulous new musical Glensheen just a few blocks away at the History Theatre. A few blocks beyond that at Park Square Theatre is where you can see Music Director Nic Delacambre as one half of the delightful musical murder mystery Murder for Two. Randy Schmeling recently performed in the Ordway's latest Broadway Songbook, and Aly Westberg just finished a short run of Murder Ballad with Minneapolis Musical Theatre. Everyone in the cast can be seen on various stages around the Twin Cities; in fact there was so much talent on that stage that much of it was underused (like the always adorable Suzie Juul). Bottom line is - these are all busy people who come together to learn this show for just one night!

The Most Happy Fella marks the final show in Second Fiddle's second season. Hopefully next year will bring another selection of rare and delightful musicals "read" by super-talented artists. If you want to help make that happen, remember them on Give to the Max Day, coming up on November 12.