The Most Happy Fella, a 1956 musical with book, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, brings a little bit of wine country to town this week. Prairie Fire Theatre and director Dawn Harris will open their Most Happy Fella Thursday August 3rd at 7:30 pm in Westbrook Auditorium at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Prairie Fire specializes in performing "professional, first-rate musical theatre and light opera" in Bloomington-Normal and that has often meant Gilbert & Sullivan, with a little Irving Berlin or Lerner and Loewe to mix things up. I haven't seen anything from Frank Loesser there before, but we haven't been without Loesser on local stages, as Illinois State University has done Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in recent memory. The Most Happy Fella is more operatic than those two shows, which means it fits securely in Prairie Fire's sweet spot.
This warm, charming musical about the romance between an older man -- an Italian immigrant who has become a successful grape farmer in California -- and a younger woman, a waitress from San Francisco who happened to pick up Tony's love letter, premiered at Broadway's Imperial Theater in 1956, running for 678 performances and earning six Tony nominations. The song "Standing on the Corner," the one about "watching all the girls go by," was a major hit from the show. Since then, The Most Happy Fella has been revived on Broadway three times, with an Encores! production at New York City Center starring Shuler Hensley, Laura Benanti and Cheyenne Jackson in 2014. You can see a teaser video of that production here, and that video will also give you a preview of Loesser's lush, romantic score.
For Prairie Fire, artistic director Robert Mangialardi will play Tony, the good-hearted but sometimes foolish grape farmer, with Laurel Beard as Rosabella, the beautiful girl he loves. Blake Miller takes on the role of Joey, the handsome young farm foreman whose picture Tony used when he sent letters to Rosabella, while Kelly Riordan and Kevin Alleman play a second couple, Cleo and Herman, who also encounter romantic difficulties. In the 1992 Broadway revival, Scott Waara, who played Herman, was the one who came away with the Tony, maybe because he's the one who leads "Standing on the Corner," or maybe because he gets to be the bouncy, dancy guy on "I Like Everybody" and "Big D."
For more information on Prairie Fire Theatre's Most Happy Fella, click here or call 309-824-3047. Performances run from August 3 to 6, with evening performances at 7:30 pm and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm.