Encores! Presents Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella April 2-6
By: Ellis Nassour
Tony and two-time Drama Desk winner Laura Benanti, Cheyenne Jackson, and Tony and two-time DD winner Shuler Hensley star in the Encores! production of Frank Loesser’s romantic musical The Most Happy Fella, playing seven performances at New York City Center, through April 6. Directing and choreographing is Tony winner Casey Nicholaw [co-director, The Book of Morman; Spamalot], who recently opened Disney’s megahit Aladdin.
The Most Happy Fella, presented in three acts, is set in late 20s Napa Valley and tells the heart-stopping story of a love triangle between aging farmer Tony (Hensley), a young waitress Rosabella (Benanti), and Joe, a restless ranch hand (Jackson). Book, music and lyrics are by Loesser of Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed… fame. His lavish score of over 40 songs covers an astonishing range – ardent operatic numbers stand side by side with Broadway production numbers with show-stopping choreography. Songs includes "Abbondanza," "Big D," "Don’t Cry," "I Know How It Is," "I Like Everybody," "Joey, Joey, Joey," "Like a Woman Loves a Man," "My Heart Is So Full of You," "Somebody Somewhere," "Standing on the Corner," and "Warm All Over,"
The 1956 Broadway show, based on the play They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard, was directed by six-time Tony nominee Joseph Anthony and produced by Loesser and then-wife Lynn, starring Jo Sullivan [later Mrs. Loesser] as Rosabella, Robert Weede and Richard Torigi [alternating as Tony], Art Lund as Joe, Susan Johnson as Cleo, and Shorty Long as Herman. It was nominated for six Tonys, including Best Musical, and ran just short of 700 performances. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were not only heavy investors in the show but also had an I Love Lucy episode where they went to the opening and in which several songs were heard. There have been three revivals as well as New York City Opera and West End productions.
Benanti, announced to host the 2014 Drama Desk Awards, recently co-starred in NBC’s mega-rated telecast of The Sound of Music. She made her Broadway debut in the 1998 revival as Maria.
Heidi Blickenstaff (Cleo), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Herman), Jessica Molaskey (Marie), and a featured cast and dance ensemble of 32 along with the large Encores! orchestra, which is music directed by Robert Berman. Jack Viertel is Encores! artistic director.
The Most Happy Fella tickets are $30-$130 and available at the City Center box office, CityTix at 212-581-1212, or online at www.NYCityCenter.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 P.M., Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, and Sunday at 2 and 7.
The Encores! season closing concert, May 7-11, is Marguerite Monnot’s heart-breaking musical Irma La Douce, the tale of a Parisian lady of the evening and the law student who falls in love with her, with English book and lyrics from the French original by Julian More, David Heneker, and Monty Norman. Tony winner John Doyle will direct, with choreography by Chase Brock. The Encores! orchestra will be under the direction of Berman. After a three-year Paris engagement, an English-language version directed by Peter Brook enjoyed tremendous success on the West End before hitting Broadway in 1960 and running 524 performances.
Photos Joan Marcus