The Arlington Connection: TAP Presents ‘The Most Happy Fella’

Tackles operatic musical from American popular culture

The Arlington Connection ran an article about TAP’s Spring production in its April 9 edition; the text of that article is pasted below.  Click here to see the hard copy on page 8.

The Arlington Players (TAP) is presenting a classic of the American musical stage, “The Most Happy Fella” now through April 19. The operatic play is about a romance between an Italian immigrant older man and younger woman in the Napa Valley, and is from the book, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, who is famous for creating “Guys and Dolls.” He also created “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” But this show was based on “They Knew What They Wanted” by Sidney Howard.

“It’s a great love story,” said director Gloria DuGan, who saw the show in the 1950s and has been waiting for the right group to perform it. “Most musicals are love stories but this is an old-fashioned love story. This is a great opportunity to see a great classic.”

DuGan said her biggest challenge in directing the 25 members of the cast and ensemble was to make the story flow with all of the music and characters — to fit it all together and make it tell one story. “So there weren’t all these scenes but one overall storyline,” she said.

Musical Director David Rohde, who conducted a 19-piece orchestra, said when the show first appeared on Broadway in 1956, and ran for 14 months, the creator, Frank Loesser, was accused of writing an opera. “In order to sing this, the actors had to have operatic skills.” A number of the songs were popular during the 1950s, but with the exception of the memorable song, “Standing on the Corner,” most of the music has sort of faded away from American popular culture.

Rohde said “The Most Happy Fella” offers an opportunity to see a story that’s very rarely performed on the stage in America. “There’s a tremendous amount of music in this show … It has both storytelling and big dance numbers,” he added.

Heather Whitney, who plays the love interest, Rosabella, added: It’s a lost gem of the Broadway classical musical.”
Jimmy Payne lost 60 pounds to play the main role of vintner Tony Esposito. “It was the most demanding role for me. But it was a thrill,” he said of having to learn opera. He said he got his start in music as a rock and roll singer.

Produced by Janet Bordeaux, the show features dancing and choreography by Jeannie Torres.

“The Most Happy Fella” is playing now through April 19. Show times are 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Performances are: April 11, 12, 13, 18, 19. Tickets are $23 adults, $20 seniors, $20 juniors, Members are free. At Thomas Jefferson Community Center, 3501 Second Street, South, Arlington, VA