‘The Most Happy Fella’ at The Arlington Players

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Who doesn’t like a good, touching love story? If you are also fond of musicals-especially the grand old fashioned Broadway productions of the 1950s-seeing The Most Happy Fella at The Arlington Players is simply a must!

The cast of  'The Most Happy Fella.' Photo by Peter Hill.
The cast of ‘The Most Happy Fella.’ Photo by Peter Hill.

“Wanting to be wanted, needing to be needed, that’s what it is…” and that’s what Heather Whitney (Rosabella) dreams about as she sings about her yearning for love and happiness, and later with her co-star and admirer and husband-to-be Jimmy Payne (Tony), she sings beautiful duets including “My Heart is Full of You.” Frank Loesser’s most challenging musical, is by no means a ‘boy meets girl and they live happily ever after’ cliché. Expect the unexpected. There’s a large age difference, hurtful disappointments, jealousy, and more. Does the fellow end up happy? Does the audience end up happy? Judging by the standing ovation bestowed on the performers after the finale – most definitely!

Entering the auditorium, seeing the orchestra pit with the conductor ready to begin , and a spacious stage by Scenic Designer Bill Wisniewski, which hat has been turned into a San Francisco Chinese restaurant, I was so excited with anticipation. Within minutes after watching and hearing the first performer – beautiful, talented, and funny Teresa Danskey (Cleo)-I was transported into the world of 1950’s Broadway-esque magic, with a score that marvelously fused American and Italian cultures and musical styles together. What followed was a display of amazing singing, acting and dancing, and a great visual and musical feast in 3 acts, 11 scenes, and 27 musical numbers. Not that I was counting, because I was too busy with my eyes and ears ‘glued’ to the stage, lost in time.

By the end of the first act, I was familiar with all characters and performers, enchanted with the songs, dance, and superb performance of David Rohde’s talented musicians. I was so moved by the story of two lonely people; Tony, an Italian middle aged wine farmer and a much younger Rosabella, who dreamed of marrying Tony, despite his sister’s objection.

Jimmy Payne is perfectly cast as a the romantic farmer with a good heart and a strong disposition, and his unique ability to attract a younger woman.  Apart from the impressive stature and his handsome face, Payne has a special twinkle in his eyes that adds to the attraction. Combine this with a powerful singing voice and an ability to generate laughs with a thick Italian accent and you have a compelling stage presence. Heather Whitney, also a talented singer, is equally convincing as the younger, modest woman craving love and stability and she performs memorable (among others) renditions of “Somebody, Somewhere” and “Warm All Over.” And Payne is superb on “Rosabella,” and “Mamma, Mamma.” Christopher Overly in the role of Joe sings a wonderful rendition of “Don’t Cry.”

Like every classic story, this one also has a villain, Tony’s sister Marie (Linda Wells), is the only character dressed in black, for a reason. On the surface Ms. Wells is a perfect embodiment of an Italian Mamma, full-bodied and warm, just like Marie, yet she easily transforms into a possessive, scheming, and vicious woman that she portrays.

Most of the laughs in the show are generated by three groups of characters; a trio of cooks, Pasquale (Tom Mirenda), Ciccio (Quinn McCord) and Giuseppe (Jerrod Laber); the pairing of vivacious and flirty Cleo (Teresa Danskey) and good-hearted, always smiling Herman (Joseph Wilson), and a foursome of farm boys; Herman, Jake (Jerrod Laber), Clem (William Shingler), and Al (Derek Marsh), whose comedic talents go hand-in-hand with their singing and dancing skills. Look out for the farm boys singing the bouncy “Standing on the Corner,” the cooks’ song “Abbondanza”and “I Like Everybody,” and “Big D” by Cleo and Herman. The Ensemble lends their singing and dancing skills to many scenes, enriching the action and adding to the feel of the 1950s with their colorful costumes and characteristic hairstyles.

Staging The Most Happy Fella is a dream come true for its Director, Gloria DuGan, and Musical Director David Rohde. Both have always wanted to do the show, despite its scope and challenges. The musical score is very extensive and thus demanding on both the singers and musicians.

There are 26 performers in the show, including 13 members in the ensemble, several set changes, and a live orchestra. It took seven weeks and 1,100 hours of volunteer time to prepare the beautiful backdrops supporting the scenes; a colorful backdrop of Napa Town depicting shop fronts and a back drop depicting the rolling hillsides of Napa Valley. All in all it took 5,300 hours of volunteer time to put the production together. And what a success!

The cast of 'The Most Happy Fella.' Photo by Peter Hill.
The cast of ‘The Most Happy Fella.’ Photo by Peter Hill.

Congrats to Producer Janet Bordeaux, Choreographer Jeannie Torres, Scenic Designer Bill Wisniewski, Lighting Designer B. Keith Ryder, Sound Designer Stan Harris, Costume Designers Laura Fontaine and Holly McDade and Hair and Makeup Designer Kendel Taylor for their brilliant work on this production.

If Frank Loesser was in the audience last night, he would have been thrilled with The Arlington Players’ gorgeous production of The Most Happy Fella. Abbondanza!

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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Here’s the third video of Claire O’Brien’s ‘Behind the Scenes’ videos for The Arlington Players’ production of The Most Happy Fella, which opens this weekend.

In this video meet the cast.

Meet Director Gloria DuGan

Meet Musical Director David Rohde.

The Arlington Players’ production of The Most Happy Fella plays through April 19, 2014 at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center – 3501 Second Street, in Arlington, VA. Purchase tickets online.

LINK
‘The Most Happy Fella’: Let’s Take It Outside: The Expansive Musical World of ‘The Most Happy Fella’ Which Opens at The Arlington Players on Friday, 4/4