By Wesley James
The Most Happy Fella follows an aging Italian American vintner who catfishes a teenaged waitress via snail mail but she marries and falls in love with him (in that order) anyway. There are a few forgettable subplots and a point of conflict where the young girl is cast out for being pregnant – but it’s okay! He comes to forgive her.
This show was put on about as well as it could have been, and that is the best that can be said. The Most Happy Fella is a story that was antiquated before it was turned into a paceless, exhausting musical, and it is surreal and confounding that it’s still being told.
If this comes across as not enough story to tell over three hours, rest assured – every meal, walk down the street, mild emotional shift, and conceivable conversation has its own musical number. There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether this is a musical or an opera; but even if there were a demand for opera sung in English in English speaking countries, the least we could expect are some high notes. So, the play is an operatic, a vague blend of opera and musical theater that exacerbates both mediums’ potential for flashy emptiness.
This show is put on alright – everyone seems qualified and to know what they’re doing, it’s very unlikely anything changes from night to night. Choreography is mostly clean but necessarily sparse for the amount of filler songs, and the brief dialogue between songs seems to mimic a cast recording. It’s very hard to say if any of the performers stand out, or could have, because the nature of the show is to offer them no opportunities to – there are so many songs and empty, obvious dialogues that none stand out, nothing is showcased but a self-insert congratulation on seducing young women.
If this review seems harsh it’s because The Most Happy Fella has done nothing to court the benefit of the doubt. At its core it’s a celebration of 1920’s sexism, to the extent that virtually every aspect of the plot demeans or villainizes women. The message of this play is that even if it requires gross, manipulative, duplicitous means, even an aging immigrant can find joy in life by seducing a young woman – this would be a decent premise for a satire if it weren’t still so appallingly close to home.
In the urgent march for progress this play is an anchor, a stagnant brand denoting obliviousness at best and self-gratification at worst. To those who give any thought to these issues, or who value women, or who have met a woman, there are more expedient paths to outrage. To those who will claim this is a classic, a harmless throwback to a different time, that it shouldn’t be condemned by a modern lens, I stand most with you: we can sift through these old racist, sexist works with an anthropological fascination as soon as we’ve antiquated the longstanding and still very active damages they reflect.
The Most Happy Fella (Theo Ubique at No Exit Cafe)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Based on They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard
Directed by Fred Anzevino
Choreography by James Beaudry
Musical Direction by Jeremy Ramey
March 10, 2017 - May 7, 2017