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The Most Happy Fella

You can see the appeal of Frank Loesser's 1956 hit for a large semi-professional group. Apart from the musical's considerable merits, there's plenty for a large male and female chorus to do. This probably explains why Village Light Opera Group chose to do a second mounting when its last production of the show is still remembered. Indeed, the ensemble numbers were more populated than any current Broadway production could afford.

The principals were problematic this time around, though. Michael Roth's Tony -- the "fella" of the title, who entices a waitress into marriage by sending her the photo of his good-looking foreman -- was too young, too thin, and not Italian enough to be really convincing. Also miscast were Catherine Hesse's Cleo, Ryan Cloud's Joe, and Margit Jensen's Marie: all clearly talented, but lightweight in these roles.

The same might have almost been said for Marissa McGowan's mail-order bride, but she overcame her baby-faced appearance with a voice of quality and assured acting. Donald Purdy, Jeffrey Kurnit, and James Weeden as the crowd-pleasing Italian trio, and David Simon as the postman were also first-rate. Best of all was Bj Hemann as Herman, perfection in the comedic second-banana role.

Director-choreographer Doug Hodge oversaw a well-paced production, and the large numbers, such as "Big D" and "The Fresno Beauties," were imaginatively staged.

The miking was troublesome, however. A necessary evil in the sprawling Taft Auditorium, voices dropped in an out. Sam Militello's lighting was variable, too, as the frequent use of spotlighting was rarely precise. John Robinson's setting was quite ambitious, even including a starry backdrop.

As usual, musical values were high, as Maestro Ronald W. Noll conducted his big orchestra with utter mastery and, under his seasoned leadership, provided a luscious, full-bodied Broadway sound.

In spite of flaws, this was a solid -- and ultimately moving -- production of a complex show.

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