The Washington University Opera will present Frank Loesser’s legendarily ambitious Broadway musical The Most Happy Fella at 7 p.m. March 21-22 in the Saint Louis Art Museum auditorium.
Set in 1927, the story opens in a San Francisco restaurant where the beautiful young waitress Rosabella (played by Karen Hetzler, a master’s candidate in vocal performance) has just received a written proposal of marriage from Tony Esposito (senior Scott Levin), a shy yet good-hearted Italian vintner from the Napa Valley.
They begin to correspond, but Rosabella, having no recollection of waiting on the stocky, middle-aged Tony, requests a photo. Fearing rejection, Tony instead sends a picture of his handsome ranch foreman, Joe (senior David Koch).
The gambit works, and after several months, Rosabella accepts Tony’s proposal, much to his delight. However, when she finally arrives in town, the first person she meets is Joe, who quickly unravels the deception.
Indignant, Rosabella prepares to return to San Francisco but stops when she learns that Tony, who had planned to intercept her at the train station, has suffered an accident en route. Seeing him on his stretcher, the reluctant Rosabella cannot bring herself to leave the injured man and they marry that night, though afterward she takes comfort in the arms of Joe.
Still, as the weeks pass and Tony convalescences, Rosabella is gradually swayed by her new husband’s constant attention and generosity, coming at last to truly love him. Yet one final obstacle remains, as Rosabella discovers that she is pregnant with Joe’s child.
Jolly Stewart, director of the Washington University Opera, said The Most Happy Fella is one of the most vocally challenging Broadway musicals and points out that the role of Tony usually requires an operatically trained baritone. In fact, the role was originated by Robert Weede and also has been performed by Giorgio Tozzi and Louis Quilico; all three were longtime members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
Compounding the difficulty for most Broadway-style companies is the wide-ranging score, which includes close to 30 numbers and is liberally sprinkled with arias, recitatives, duets, canons, choral numbers, dances, instrumental interludes and folk hymns. Indeed, roughly three-quarters of the play is set to music; it was the first Broadway show recorded in its totality, not just the hits.
The Most Happy Fella
Who: Washington University OperaWhat: Broadway musical by Frank LoesserWhen: 7 p.m. March 21-22Tickets: $15; $10 for seniors, students and WUSTL faculty and staff; $5 for WUSTL students. Available through the Edison Theatr Box Office (935-6543) and at the door. For more information, call 935-4841
Book, music and lyrics all were written by Loesser, who based the story on Sidney Howard’s 1924 hit They Knew What They Wanted and who had enjoyed previous Broadway success with Guys and Dolls (1950).
The original production opened in May 1956 and ran for 678 performances, receiving the 1957 New York Drama Critics Circle Award and Tony Award nomination for best musical, though it ultimately lost to My Fair Lady. The show also yielded several hit tunes, including “Standing on the Corner,” “Big D” and “Joey, Joey, Joey.”
Brooks Atkinson, writing in The New York Times, called The Most Happy Fella “a profoundly moving dramatic experience” and “a rare achievement for the theater.”
“Broadway is used to a heart,” Atkinson wrote. “It is not accustomed to evocations of the soul.”
Robert Coleman of the Daily Mirror concurred: “It is a masterpiece of our era. … People sing their thoughts, their joys and heartbreaks, instead of talking about them. Sing them superbly, through one of the most gorgeous scores we have ever heard on a stage.”
The cast of 25 also features Michelle Goodman and Klaus Georg, both master’s candidates in vocal performance, in the comic roles of Cleo and Herman. John Stewart, the University’s director of vocal activities, conducts.
Choreography is by Christine O’Neal, senior artist-in-residence in dance in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences.
Tickets are $15; $10 for seniors, students and WUSTL faculty and staff; and $5 for WUSTL students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, at 935-6543, and at the door.
The Saint Louis Art Museum is located at One Fine Arts Drive in Forest Park.
The performance is co-presented by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences.
Shuttle buses will run from Mallinckrodt Student Center to the art museum at 6:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. each day.
For more information, call 935-4841.