Review: The Most Happy Fella (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

| April 19, 2017

Joe Giovannetti and Courtney Jones star in Most Happy Fella, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre           
      
  

The Most Happy Fella

Written by Frank Loesser 
Based on book by Sidney Howard
No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
thru May 13  |  tix: $34-$39  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

Though beautifully sung and staged, this ‘Fella’ has not aged well

  

Jonathan Wilson, Molly Hernandez, Roy Brown and Erik Dohner star in Most Happy Fella

    
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
    
The Most Happy Fella

Review by Catey Sullivan

Look, I get it: When The Most Happy Fella debuted in 1956, the myth of the happy housewife was an entrenched part of society. Pop culture’s default mode was “Father Knows Best” and June Cleaver. You can’t blame Frank Loesser for crafting a musical that catered to the different attitudes of different times. But still. The Most Happy Fella is a staggeringly sexist piece of work, even given the context of the era.

Joe Giovannetti and Courtney Jones star in Most Happy Fella, Theo Ubique Cabaret TheatreDirected by Fred Anzevino, Theo Ubique’s cast makes the scourge sound lovely while music director Jeremy Ramey’s three-person band sounds like an ensemble four times that size. The lush soundscape isn’t enough to justify staging what amounts to a celebration of misogyny.

I know, I know. It’s a love story, wherein age is no barrier to the meeting of true hearts and forgiveness triumphs over the bitterly regretted mistakes of a fallen woman. Blech. To quote the words of a thousand memes: Bitch, please. How jaw-droppingly regressive is this so-called romance? Let me count a few ways:

  1. Tony, the show’s mail-order-bride-ordering “hero” doesn’t bother to learn the name of the woman he supposedly loves. He makes up a name for her instead, and bestows it on her with the pride of a father christening an infant. (Creepy.) Names have power. “Rosabella” – or whoever she is – is stripped of hers before we’re 10 minutes in.

  2. There’s an entire song celebrating guys who hang out on street corners for the sole purpose of ogling women. I know – we’re supposed to take a laughing “boys-will-be-boys” attitude toward “Standing on the Corner.” Sorry/not sorry. It’s creepy, not funny. Sample unnerving lyric: “Brother, you can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking.” Ew. Double ew: The girls of “Most Happy Fella” like the attention. They giggle and smize at the corner-standing guys.

  3. When Tony first sees “Rosabella” she’s a waitress. He decides she’s “too good” for a monetary tip. Instead, he leaves her a tie clip. And she thinks this is lovely. Reality check: Show me a waitress who thinks a tie clip is better than an actual tip and I’ll show show you – Never mind. That waitress doesn’t exist.

  4. Tony sends “Rosabella” love letters, and encloses a photo of his young, handsome foreman, Joe. Tony, who Joe calls “foxy grandpa,” is roughly 30 years older than “Rosabella.” He knows she’ll never marry him if she knows his actual age. So he lies as he lures her from “‘Frisco” to his Napa Valley Vineyard.

  5. “Rosabella” agrees to mary Tony, sight unseen.

  6. After “Rosabella” arrives to marry him-as-Joe, Tony sings a song about how his young bride will bear him an entire litter of offspring. They will be mostly boys.

  7. When “Rosabella” learns that Tony is actually an ailing, AARP-eligible senior instead of the strapping young buck of the photo, she marries him anyway.

  8. Tony’s sister Maria is violently opposed to the romance, to the degree that one can only conclude that she’s harboring incestuous longings.

  9. Tony’s field-hands sing about how sexy it is that women smell like grapes and avocados.

I’ll stop there, although the list could continue.

Molly Hernandez and William Roberts star in The Most Happy Fella, Theo Ubique Cabaret TheatreKen Singleton and William Roberts star in The Most Happy Fella, Theo Ubique Cabaret TheatreKen Singleton and Molly Hernandez star in The Most Happy Fella, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Loesser’s score has some fine moments. “My Heart is Full of You” sounds gorgeous, and “Abbondanza” is rollicking fun. Newcomer Molly Hernandez’ (“Rosabella”) powerful soprano and radiant stage presence is a huge new talent who seems poised for stardom

As “Rosebella’s” best friend Cleo, Courtney Jones has a natural, rambunctious grace that’s tremendously appealing. She also instills Cleo with a welcome dose of female pragmatism. Caveat: Cleo’s edge of sophistication and smarts make the character’s subplot romance worthy of an epic side-eye. Cleo falls for Herman, played by Joe Giovannetti as a grinning simpleton. It’s a major suspension of disbelief to credit Cleo with falling for a manchild like Herman.

William Roberts brings a booming, operatic baritone to foxy grandpa Tony. Roberts relies too much on belting – when the score gets tricky, his go-to volume is full voice, almost as if he’s trying to shout down the more difficult passages. Still, he’s got the vocal power the demanding role requires.

Finally, set designer Adam Veness has transformed the tiny No Exit into a a lush, fecund and beautiful vineyard.

None of those plusses offset the negatives embedded in the book and lyrics. The Most Happy Fella is set in 1950s California, and “Rosabella” starts off as a waitress in San Francisco. That hardly seems like a circumstance desperate enough to make a woman become a mail order bride. But even if you can make yourself believe “Rosabella” is – for whatever unknown reason – just that desperate, the show is is devoted to insisting that paternalistic misogyny into grand romance. Now, arguably more than ever, that’s not something theater needs to be endorsing.

  
Rating: ★★
  

The Most Happy Fella continues through May 7 May 14th at No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 7pm.  Tickets are $34-$39 (with dinner: $59-$64), and are available by phone (800.595.4849) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Theo-U.com(Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes, includes an intermission)

Molly Hernandez and William Roberts star in Most Happy Fella, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Photos by Adam Veness 


  

artists

cast

William Roberts (Tony), Molly Hernandez (Rosabella), Courtney Jones (Cleo), Sarah Simmons (Marie), Ken Singleton (Joe), Joe Giovannetti (Herman), Ryan Armstrong (postman, u/s Herman, ensemble), Roy Brown, Jonathan Wilson, Erik Dohner (Chefs, country boys, ensemble), Theresa Egan (u/s Marie, ensemble), David Gordon Johnson (priest, ensemble), Hope Elizabeth Schafer (u/s Rosabella, ensemble), Laura Sportiello (u/s Cleo, ensemble), Trevor Vanderzee (u/s Tony)

band

Jeremy Ramey (piano), Chuck Evans (violin), Hillary Butler (viola), Desiree Miller (cello).

behind the scenes

Fred Anzevino (director) James Beaudry (choreographer), Jeremy Ramey (music director), Courtney Crouse (assistant to the director), Mina Slater (stage manager), Adam Veness (set design, photos), Bill Morey (costume design), Katie Beeks (props).

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Frank Loesser, Musical, No Exit Cafe, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

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