Highly Recommended ***** Fred Anzevino has done it again! In his intimate little theater space, TheoUbique at The No Exit Café, has taken a large musical* and produced a special theatrical entertainment, pared down to fit the space. The show is the rarely done Frank Loesser (his special “musical”) almost opera, “The Most Happy Fella”. Before you say “WHAT?” I know there are many who might disagree on this but take a look at something that sort of spells it out-
The Most Happy Fella frequently has been described as an opera, but some have qualified the term. In his book The World of Musical Comedy, Stanley Green noted that the musical is “one of the most ambitiously operatic works ever written for the Broadway theatre … Loesser said ‘I may give the impression this show has operatic tendencies. If people feel that way – fine. Actually all it has is a great frequency of songs. It’s a musical with music.’ ” In an article in the Playbill Magazine for the original Broadway production, Loesser wrote, “What was left seemed to me to be a very warm simple love story, happy ending and all, and dying to be sung and danced.”Brooks Atkinson, theatre critic (The New York Times), called it a “music drama”, noting Loesser “has now come about as close to opera as the rules of Broadway permit.” Composer, conductor, and musical theatre teacher Lehman Engel and critic/author Howard Kissel called it a “fresh musical (perhaps opera)”.
Now, I feel better and can go on with my review of this production that should be seen by everyone who loves a great story, songs with heart and meaning, and a cast of singers that will “blow your mind”. I am not sure if Fred seeks out the warm fresh bodies he puts on his stage or if the young actors, hearing about TheoUbique, make their way to Rogers Park upon arrival to Chicago, but they just keep coming (thank the lord) and the theater audiences of Chicago reap the benefits.
“The Most Happy Fella” is based on a play by Sidney Howard “They Knew What They Wanted” and was written in the 1950’s (a long time ago, but with a story that is as powerful and poetic today as it was then). Tony Espisito (an incredible portrayal by William Roberts, who sounds as operatic as one can sound), a Napa Valley vintner (by way of Italy) who sees a young waitress, Rosabella (the incredible Molly Hernandez) while in San Francisco, and leaves her a note indicating his desire for her. He continues to court her via mail, and while she has no idea who he is, finds herself falling for the idea, if not the man, himself. When she asks for a picture to be sent, Tony, sends a photo of his foreman, Joe (deftly handled by Ken Singleton), a much younger man, who is very good- looking as well.
She agrees to wed and Tony hides the facts figuring that once she gets there he can woo her to agree to wed. Joe, who was supposed to leave for greener pastures, decides to stay for the festivities, and when Rosabella sees him, her heartstrings make her feel that this is right. When she finds that he is not Tony, she has second thoughts, but having left her job and her life to come to Napa, decides to stay and wed this older “prince charming”, without the love. I will not tell you some of the sub-stories in order not to ruin your experience, but will tell you that this is a touching love story filled with 40 plus musical numbers; ballads, dramatic arias (thus the opera definition), and of course some splashy typical musical theater melodies Some of the song titles that may ring a bell; “The Most Happy Fella”, “Abbondanza” ( a specialty number where three ensemble members truly get to strut their stuff-Jonathan Wilson, Erik Dohner and Roy Brown), “Pretty Bambino”, “Big D” (a solid number handled by the incredible duo of Courtney Jones as Cleo and Joe Giovannetti as Herman), “Joey, Joey, Joey” (you older folks may recall this as the TV theme for Joey Bishop- a late night host), “Standing on The Corner” ( a top 40 winner) and a host of others that truly help to propel the story. More songs than dialogue- hmm, sounds like an “opera”.
Once again, every character in this show is sheer perfection in the production. Anzevino and his crew pick them just ripe for his productions ( a play on words). The ensemble is made up of:Sarah Simmons, David Gordon Johnson, Ryan Armstrong, Hope Elizabeth Schafer, Theresa Egan and Laura Sportiello. The orchestra, led by musical director Jeremy Ramey (at the keyboards) is composed of Hillary Butler (viola), Desiree Miller (cello) and Simeon Tsanev (violin)- the music they make is enchanting and you might swear there were even more musicians somewhere offstage. There were not. The Choreography by James Beaudry is terrific and his use of a small stage is magical. The tech people are all creative sorts as well with set design by Adam Veness, costumes by Bill Morey, props by Katie Beeks, lighting by James Kolditz and once again, the assistant to the director, Courtney Crouse.
If you have never been to TheoUbique a/k/a The No Exit Café located at 6970 N. Glenwood, you owe it to yourself to find a date in your busy calendar to fit this show in. You will thank me later, and you will thank the cast that night. If you have been to this venue ( then I am sure you know that you will have a great experience), This production of “The Most Happy Fella” will continue thru May 7th (I anticipate an extension on this one) with performances as follows:
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 7 p.m.
Tickets are $34-$39 and dinner can be pre-ordered at an additional $25 (check out website for menu). Drinks and beverages are optional and extra. By the way, the cast members are also your wait-staff. Makes for a memorable experience. Order your tickets (remember, there are only about 68 seats in the house) by calling 800-595-4849 or visit www.theo-u.com
Parking can be tough and the Morse Avenue Red Line stop is by far the best way to go.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Most Happy Fella”. I must say, watching this production, I left the building feeling that I was in fact, The Most Happy Fella! I am!