Book, Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
adapted from the play They Knew What They Wanted, by Sidney Howard

INFO:
Opened
at The Broadway Theatre May 3, 1956 676 performances (Often revived
Original Director: Joseph Anthony
Original Choreographer: Dania Krupska
Original Producer: Kermit Bloomgarden
Original Leads: Tony: Robert Weede    Rosabella: Jo Sullivan (Mrs. Loesser)    Joey: Art Lund
Cast Size: Male: 7 Female: 3 Ensemble: At least 16 Total Cast Size: At least 26
Orchestra: 21 (There is a two piano rendition)
Published Script: None
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway, a three record set (!!!) that recorded almost the entire show!
Film: None.
Other shows by the authors: Where’s Charley, Guys & Dolls, Hans Christian Anderson, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Awards: 6 Tony nominations, it won none of them.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Opera companies. CLOs, if there are any left. (If you need to ask what a CLO is, you aren’t one.) Larger theater companies with a serious talent pool of singing actors. Colleges and universities with strong musical theater, classical music or opera programs. Larger regional companies looking for a musical challenge written by the composer of Guys & Dolls, and How To Succeed. Broasway, but I think the production would need to be inspired.

Be Warned:

Much too hard to sing for many companies, or High Schools. You need two seriously operatic and gifted stars. Even the third lead, Joey, has to sing extremely well. And your ensemble, with tight barbershop quartets and operatic male trios…this is a show for a large company of trained singers. No one else should consider it. It will not work without really great voices.

Also, if you have a very prudish audience (or group of performers), it tells the tale of of a young-ish woman who marries and within minutes is having an affair. Something to consider before selecting this piece.

THE STORY: (Outline from MTI site.)

ACT ONE: The scene opens in the interior of the Golden Gate Restaurant, San Francisco, at closing time late of a January evening in 1927. The cashier is saying good-bye to all the customers as they leave – telling them to be certain and come again. As soon as they are gone, his manner changes as he turns back to the group of fatigued waitresses with rude authority and orders them to clean up and get out. The girls continue with their work. One of them, Cleo, emerges from the action wearing one shoe and limping in the process. She sits down on a chair, tries to put her shoe on but is unsuccessful. She eases the other shoe off, leans back and sighs. (“Ooh My Feet”)

The cashier approaches another waitress, Rosabella, and attempts to put a move on her. Unfortunately for him, she slaps him in the face and tells him to get lost. She has no interest in being seen with a guy like him (“I Know How it Is”). She and Cleo continue cleaning up as they both commiserate (“Seven Million Crumbs”). Suddenly, as she is cleaning up a table, Rosabella notices that a customer has left her a tie pin along with a note written in funny broken English. As she reads the note, Rosabella notices that this man is obviously attracted to her, but doesn’t quite know how to say it (“I Don’t Know (The Letter)”). Cleo thinks that maybe Rosabella should hock the pin; however, Rosabella has no interest in doing that. She continues to read the letter and realizes that this mystery man wants to get married and wants Rosabella to be his wife. He even gives her his name – Antonio Esposito and tells her where he lives. The cashier finally kicks the girls out of the restaurant, and as they leave Rosabella confesses to Cleo that she is going to send this man a thank you card (“Maybe He’s Kinda Crazy”). Rosabella stays behind and dreams about what all of this could possibly mean. (“Somebody, Somewhere”)

Out on the main street of Napa, California, in April townspeople are going about their business. The Postman enters with a mailbag and calls out names as he distributes the mail to the folks. Everyone appears most interested at the arrival of another letter for Tony Esposito who has been having a mail order love affair for some time now. The crowd breaks up as Tony makes a strong entrance – pushing several people aside when he hears his name called. Tony is a big, exuberant Italian grape farmer – every inch a man. The Postman hands him an envelope, which he quickly opens. The crowd anxiously awaits to see just what the letter (from Rosabella) says. Tony is ecstatic as he shows everyone her picture, which he has sent him. (“The Most Happy Fella”) She also has asked that he send his picture to her. It is apparent that after writing each other for the past four months that the two of them are going to marry. The crowd congratulates Tony and has Max take a picture of Tony to send Rosabella.

The townspeople start dispersing. Marie, Tony’s doting sister, enters and tries to take Tony home where he can take his nap. Tony is in no hurry to go home; rather, he is waiting for his picture to develop so he can send it to Rosabella. Marie finds all of this rather ridiculous and finds it even more ridiculous when Tony explains that he wants to marry Rosabella. Marie reminds Tony that not only is he not young anymore, but that he isn’t good-looking or smart (“A Long Time Ago”). Hearing what Marie has said, Tony takes the picture which Max has just finished developing and tears it up. How could it make any sense? Maybe Marie is right! His picture would just make Rosabella laugh. Just before he leaves, Tony is stopped by four men who congratulate him – not knowing just what is going through his head.

These four men stand outside the drugstore musing about their current love situation – or lack of it. As several Napa girls stroll by, they give the girls the once-over. (“Standing On the Corner”) Finally, the sheriff breaks up the guys and they amble off. Tony dejectedly re-enters and stares sadly at Rosabella’s picture. Joe, a handsome foreman who works for Tony, enters with two girls, and when he sees Tony, he dismisses the girls. Joe has come to tell Tony that he will be quitting his job soon – maybe even in a month. Joe is a restless kind of guy who can’t stay put for too long a time. (“Joey, Joey, Joey”) Before Joe can be gone, Tony gets an idea: he asks Joe for a picture of himself and Joe agrees. Tony calls out Max who comes back to take Joe’s picture. As soon as Joe is gone, Tony looks to the sky and talks to his dead Mama asking her forgiveness for what he is about to do. He’ll send Rosabella Tony’s picture and she’ll have no choice but to come racing up to Napa and marry this handsome man (“Rosabella”). Unfortunately, what Tony hasn’t thought about is what he’s going to do once she arrives.

Inside Tony’s barn at twilight a few weeks later, people are preparing a banquet for the bride-to-be. (“Abbondonza”) Tony enters dressed for his wedding. He talks to all the neighborhood children and tells them about just how excited he is. (“Plenty Bambini”) The Priest enters and smilingly approves of these sentiments. Suddenly Joe enters through a small barn door and sees the party ready to go in its entire splendor. Tony suddenly panics reminding Tony that he was supposed to be gone that morning. Joe responds by telling Tony that he hates to travel on an empty belly and thought he’d wait around for the “big feed.” Joe would also like to meet the new bride. Tony panics at the thought of this, but he is hurried off by his friends to pick up his expectant bride at the train station. No sooner has this happened then the party begins to roll in full gear. (“Sposalizio”) Everyone including Joe is happy for Tony and his impending wedding – this is everyone except for Marie.

Suddenly, the Postman enters and then beckons someone to follow him – that someone turns out to be Rosabella who looks about to see the party made up in her honor (“I Seen Her at the Station”). She appears to be a bit frightened and rather petulant when she sees Joe (who she thinks is her husband-to-be) and tells him that she was hoping he would have met her at the train station. The Postman saw her standing there and “saved the day” (“Benvenuta”). Once the word gets out that Rosabella has arrived, the servants enters and attempt to excitedly greet their new mistress. After a bit of time, Rosabella begins to feel very much at home, and has a happier and much happier reaction to Joe. (“Aren’t You Glad?”) She apologizes to Joe and asks him why he doesn’t appear happier she has come. Isn’t Tony excited to finally see his new wife face-to-face? A shocked Joe informs Rosabella that he is not Tony. She in turn pulls out his picture and shows it to him asking why he sent it to her. Joe laughs and tells her that obviously Tony must have sent instead of his own in the hopes of insuring that she would come to marry him. Rosabella further learns who Tony really is and prepares to leave in tearful terror. She doesn’t even want to wait and see the real Tony (“No Home, No Job”). On her way out, she is stopped by the townspeople who all approach her and excitedly welcome her to Napa Valley. Unfortunately, at this point, there is no polite venue of escape for Rosabella.

Suddenly, two truck drivers enter bearing on a battered metal truck door, the limp and lifeless form of Tony. They found him in a ditch – it appeared that his truck turned over three times. The Doc enters and rushes to Tony’s side. Rosabella, her suitcase still in hand, wants to get out, but waits to see just how Tony is. Surveying the situation to herself, she realizes that she has neither home nor money. Worse than that, she worries how people will laugh at her once they learn the real truth.

Just as Rosabella tries to leave, Tony calls to her and the people look for her to go to him. She, however, stands undecided. Tony begs for the wedding to happen immediately tonight – since there might not be a tomorrow. Joe indicates that maybe Rosabella might not want to get married tonight; however, in defiance to him she stiffens and accepts Tony’s request. Marie tries to insist that the wedding not happen, but Tony wins out and he and Rosabella are married. The crowd leaves, and Tony is taken into the house. Left alone, Joe moodily picks up his travel bag – bitter disappointment on his face. Herman comes out of the house and approaches Joey informing him that he will have to stick around until Tony recovers. An angered Joey hurls his bag as he agrees – all the time hearing the last of the wedding vows.

Rosabella emerges from the house crying. Joe looks at her with a degree of sympathy. (“Don’t Cry”) He tries to comfort her but she pulls away defiantly. He further tries to talk with her assuring her that he had nothing to do with the photo. She obviously finds him attractive, but doesn’t know what to do. He approaches her and she softens. Soon, they are both involved in a passionate embrace.

 

ACT TWO: A clearing at the edge of Tony’s vineyard. It is morning in May, one week later. The vineyard workers are busily doing chores. Rosabella is busily operating a sewing machine. (“Fresno Beauties”) Joe enters and spots Rosabella and she him. As their thoughts are revealed, it is evident that they both are tortured by what happened the week before. It is very evident that there was more than an embrace between them. However, all they can do now is greet each other with a simple nod. (“Cold and Dead”) Everyone leaves Rosabella at her sewing machine – only to hear Tony’s angry voice. As Tony is wheeled on stage by the doctor, he is bandaged up from head to foot with his left leg in a cast. He is angry at the fact that the doctor has informed him that he will need to stay in the wheelchair for twelve weeks. The Doctor tries to convince Tony into not behaving like a grouch. Rather, he needs love and kindness, which Rosabella can give him (“Love and Kindness”). The Doctor then motions for the reluctant Rosabella to come and attend to her ailing husband, which she does with a bit of awkwardness.

Tony and Rosabella are left alone, and Tony apologizes for sending her Joe’s picture. He asks if the two of them can start over as if they have never met before. Rosabella accepts by shaking his hand with a laugh and shows him the proper way to meet someone for the first time. He makes a slight bow from his wheelchair as he struggles with the words he repeats after her. (“Happy To Make Your Acquaintance”) No sooner have the two of them finished getting acquainted then Cleo enters – much to Rosabella’s surprise. Tony has sent for her, and has given her a job on his farm. Cleo meets Tony and is totally charmed by him – in spite of his poor English. Marie takes Cleo to get cleaned up while Rosabella asks Tony why he sent for Cleo. He tells his bride that he thought she might be lonesome and might like a friend to be with her from back home. Rosabella confesses that she finds herself liking it much more in Napa. Actually, she is quite happy. Things appear to be going quite well for the newlyweds as Rosabella wheels Tony off for a walk.

Cleo emerges from the house freshly changed and proceeds to flirt a bit with all the men. However, she is stopped by Marie who tries to convince her into helping break up Rosabella and Tony. Marie thinks that they are not meant to be together – their difference in ages being the number one thing. Cleo doesn’t like Marie; however, she listens just to be polite. (“I Don’t Like This Dame”)

No sooner is Marie gone then Cleo narrowly a miss colliding into one of the workers, Herman. He greets her, by saying “Ev’nin’ Ma’am.” She stops cold in her tracks and turns back to question him some more – asking him to repeat some more phrases for her and he does the same to her. Soon they both realize that they come from Dallas, Texas. Soon, all the Vineyard workers join in the celebration. (“Big D”) It is obvious that another romance is brewing – this time between Cleo and Herman.

A little later in May, Rosabella is giving Tony a hair trim as he sits in his wheelchair. It is apparent that they are continuing an Italian lesson (“How Beautiful The Days”). Marie enters and observes the two of them, as does Joe. She is very jealous of her brother’s relationship with Rosabella. Joe, however, wants nothing more than to finish his work and move on from Napa.

One month later in the vineyards, the vines in the distance have grown much higher and greener. Tony is in much better shape. Only a sling is on his arm and a small cast has replaced the huge one that covered his entire leg. He watches as all his workers dance and cavort with youthful abandon, and he beams appreciatively. Rosabella, who has been sitting beside Tony, is eventually swept into the dance. When this happens, Marie enters and talks with her brother. Unfortunately, all she can do is remind him that young people just like to dance while old people just get left behind. This leaves Tony a bit confused and a bit sad. (“Young People”)

The dancing group reappears with Rosabella as Marie leaves only to find that her husband is sad. She goes to him trying to get him to smile – saying that his smile makes her feel wonderful. (“Warm All Over”) Tony attempts a feeble smile when the dancers reappear once again and snatch Rosabella away. Tony looks to the sky and talks to his Mamma telling her that maybe Marie was right. Young people want to dance – old people just sit and wait to die (“Old People Gotta”).

Inside the barn, Herman pushes on a dolly contained empty grape crates. Cleo is there, too, gluing labels on the crates with Herman’s help. Though the job is quite simple, Cleo is enjoying Herman’s body close to hers as he instructs. Herman is a bit slow and docile – never making the move that Cleo wants. Several other people also walk through the barn taking cigarettes from Herman asking him to light the cigarette, and then even handing him a dustpan to use for clean up. Cleo is outraged by this and confronts Herman asking him why he never gets mad at anyone. He just lets people push him around. He tells her that basically he likes everybody and doesn’t mind if they take advantage of him (“I Like Everybody”). The only thing that makes Cleo feel better is the fact that Herman tells her that he likes her.

One July afternoon in the vineyards, the harvest has been picked and the grapes are ready to be made into wine. Joe is dressed once again for traveling. Cleo is telling Rosabella how wonderful it is that the doctor has Tony on his feet once again. Rosabella, however, is a bit upset that Tony doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with her. She loves him, but he doesn’t treat her like a wife, instead he treats her like a child (“I Love Him/I Know How it Is”). Cleo advises her to talk with Tony and tell him just how she feels. Just then, Tony limping badly enters with the Doctor who is trying to encourage him in his recuperation. Tony disgustedly sits down in the wheelchair, and Rosabella approaches him with determination. She confronts him and confesses her love for him (“Like a Woman Loves a Man”). He reminds her that he is old enough to be her father; however, she doesn’t care. She wants him close to her. When Tony realizes this, he throws away his cane and seems rejuvenated. (“My Heart Is So Full of You”)

A revitalized Tony announces that tonight he is going to have a party to announce just how much he loves Rosabella. People dance in celebration (“Hoedown”). During the dancing, Rosabella collapses to the ground and is taken to the house to be examined by the doctor. Tony is a bit angry with all of this, but is happy when the doctor tells him that Rosabella is just a bit light-headed. However, the way the doctor talks with Tony makes it evident that something else is wrong.

A moment later Rosabella enters with Cleo. She is upset revealing she is pregnant. When Tony re-enters celebrating his love for Rosabella, Cleo whisks Rosabella off before she can tell him the truth since it is obvious just how uncomfortable she feels right now. Left alone, Tony looks up to the sky and talks with his Mamma – asking her just how she likes his sweetheart – his perfect girl. (“Mamma, Mamma”)

ACT THREE:Preparations are made for the party. (“Abbondanza”) At nightfall, inside Tony’s barn some workers are playing a practical joke on Herman tying him up and putting a basket over his head leaving him alone. Cleo enters with two small suitcases – one is hers and the other is Rosabella’s. She hides them when she sees Herman and lifts the basket off his head and when he notices the hidden suitcases she confesses that she is leaving. She asks Herman how he feels about that; unfortunately, he reacts as placidly as he does to everything else (“Goodbye Darlin’”). Cleo simply puts the basket over his head and pushes him off with her. Even though she has to leave, Cleo realizes that she is crazy about this guy (“I Like Everybody Duet”).

Everyone comes piling in for the party, but before it begins, the Doc asks the crowd to give Tony and Rosabella a little time alone so they can talk, so they all go to the town pub. (“Song of a Summer Night”) Left alone, Tony notices that Rosabella is wearing the same traveling dress she wore when she arrived. When he asks her why she is doing that, she confesses that she must leave him because something terrible has happened. He presses the point and she confesses she is pregnant and is leaving on the bus back to San Francisco. At first, he only half believes what he has heard. More importantly, he realizes that he couldn’t possibly be the father. Rosabella also tells him that Joe is the father. Enraged, Tony asks her to leave. Before she goes, she tells him just how much she loves him (“Please Let Me Tell You”). Once Rosabella is gone, Tony calls out to find out where Joe has gone. When someone tells him that he saw Joe a little while ago at the station with his travel bag and a box of candy, Tony assumes that Rosabella has been lying to him all along. Tony grabs a pistol from one of the men and goes to find Joe and Rosabella (“She Gonna Home Home Wit’ Me”).

At the station, Joe is boarding a train and gives a man there a box of candy for Tony and Rosabella. He boards the train and leaves. Cleo and Rosabella appear and purchase two bus tickets for San Francisco. Cleo tells Rosabella to get on the bus while she says good-bye to Herman who she finds out is at the local bar with the Doctor and the rest of the gang. A terribly worn out Tony enters and asks to see Joe; however, he is informed that he left just a minute ago – alone. Also, the man at the station gives Tony the box of candy- a present for the “happy couple.” Tony doesn’t want the candy. It is evident that he wants to be left alone. Tony sees Rosabella’s suitcase and painfully makes his way over to it. He contemplates his current situation and after torturing himself a bit, realizes that Rosabella and he should be together – no matter what she has done.

Marie enters and begs her brother to let Rosabella go if she wants to. Tony tells her he wants Rosabella; however, Marie presses the issue saying that no one is going to love Tony like his sister will (“Nobody’s Ever Gonna Love You”). Cleo enters to observe what is going on and tries to help Tony get past his manipulative sister. Tony appears to be completely resolved to stay with Rosabella, but in an act of utter desperation Marie grabs the cane from Tony and he falls to the ground. Cleo tries to get it back, but then Marie refuses. The two women struggle violently for the cane, and Cleo finally wins – getting the cane back to Tony who uses it to go back behind the bus and find Rosabella. The fight between the two women continues until a man (Pasquale) steps in to separate the two tigresses and manages to push them apart. Marie realizes that she has ultimately lost and leaves in tears.

Herman has entered during the struggle and has seen the push Pasquale gave Cleo which has her sprawled across the ground. Herman’s usual smiling face is now dark and angry, and he slugs Pasquale who falls to the ground. Cleo who has been watching this sees the new Herman who has made a fist and a frown whom she now proclaims to be her “hero” (“I Made a Fist”).

Tony and Rosabella appear from behind the bus. Rosabella is terrible scared; however, Tony reassures her that everything is going to be fine. They will tell everyone that the baby is Tony’s, and as far as he’s concerned the baby is his. After a bit of hesitation, Rosabella finally realizes just how wonderful Tony is and accepts his offer. They embrace and Tony announces to the emerging crowd that everything between him and Rosabella is just perfect. They are going to have the wedding party in just a bit back at the house. They had a little argument before, but everything is just fine. He loves her and she loves him – forever. (“Finale”)

THE SONGS:
Act I: “Ooh! My Feet!”, “I Know How It Is”, “The Letter”, “Maybe He’s Kind of Crazy”, “Somebody, Somewhere”, “The Most Happy Fella”, “The Letter Theme”, “Standing On The Corner”,”Joey, Joey, Joey”, “Soon You Gonna Leave Me, Joe”, “Rosabella”, “Abbondanza”, “Plenty Bambini”, “Sposalizio”, “Special Delivery!”, “Benvenuta”, “No Home, No Job”, “Don’t Cry”

Act II: “Fresno Beauties” / “Cold and Dead”, “Love and Kindness”, “Happy to Make Your Acquaintance”, “I Don’t Like This Dame”, “Big D”, “How Beautiful the Days”, “Young People”, “Warm All Over”, “Old People”, I Like Everybody”, “I Love Him” / “I Know How It Is (Reprise)” “Like a Woman Loves a Man”, “My Heart Is So Full of You”, “Hoedown”, “Mamma, Mamma”

Act III: “Abbondanza (Reprise)”, “Goodbye, Darlin’” / “I Like Everybody (Reprise)”, “Song of a Summer Night”, “Please Let Me Tell You”, “Tell Tony and Rosabella Goodbye for Me”, “She Gonna Come Home Wit’ Me”, “Nobody’s Ever Gonna Love You”, “I Made a Fist”, “Finale”

Hits include “Somebody, Somewhere”, “Standing On The Corner”, “Joey, Joey, Joey”, “Big D”, “My Heart Is So Full Of You”. (Much of the music is gorgeous. “Song Of A Summer Night” can be stunning. “Abbondanza” is irresistible and once heard, will stick forever in your mind. A remarkably rich score.)

MY OPINIONS:

As always, you may skip or ignore my opinions and rating. If at the end you wind up the most unhappy (or broke) fella, tough luck for you.

Frank Loesser was the finest writer of Musical Comedy to come out of the 1950s. He opened the decade with Guys & Dolls, closed it (a bit late) with How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and in-between helped bring to life The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, and The Music Man! Imagine that period without Loesser! Would we have had Bob Fosse? Loesser was undeniably the greatest force in Musical Comedy at the time, along with Director/Producer George Abbott.

So why would he write an opera in the middle of all that? And it is pretty much an opera, despite Loesser’s claims that it is a Musical with a high frequency of song. In the intervening years, many of the productions done of this now rarely-seen show were produced by opera companies. Well, the show does have a lot – a LOT – of songs! It is an experiment in highly emotional song writing. And after writing the definitive Musical Comedy, Loesser had earned the right to experiment with his next piece. It took six years for him to produce this fascinating, tuneful and somewhat problematic piece…a period of time bemoaned by some historians who feel Mr. Loesser might have given us three more Guys & Dolls in that time. What he did provide us is fascinating. (And he did give us another highly masterful Musical Comedy later, in How To Succeed.)

Loesser chose a story with inherent melodrama, and operatic possibilities. One (I) could wish it was considerably less melodramatic a story, frankly. I find some of it a bit silly, over-the-top in ways difficult to accept. But hey, that’s opera, Doc.

Is it a successful opera? Sort of. The recitative passages are generally built around full song melodies in the show, a very wise move for a modern songwriter contriving an opera, as we also see with the Webber/Rice shows Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita. There are songs that are structured and feel like arias, such as “The Most Happy Fella.” But even that piece feels, in sum, more like a Broadway number, if a little windy for one. And that is the case with much of the Tony and Rosabella material. It is lovely, certainly. But its identity (as Loesser always claimed) is Broadway show tune – somewhat bellicose, somewhat overdrawn, but Broadway nonetheless. And if “Ooh, My Feet”, “Standing On The Corner”, “I Don’t Like This Dame” and “Big D” aren’t Broadway direct from the mind that brought us Guys & Dolls, the definitive Musical Comedy, then I have no idea what is.

So where does this piece belong? Who should produce it? Where to place this perhaps too happy fella?

My answer – it will play as a Broadway show, and it will play as opera…depending on the choice of emphasis in production. It walks the same line that Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, and Weill’s Street Scene walk. Of the three, Weill’s piece, written by a well-trained and renowned classical composer, is the closest to legit opera and, I believe, generally the most effective as Musical Theater. Loesser’s is the closest to a Broadway show, though a lot of the numbers are operatic. And yet, Loesser’s will play better in an opera house – and that’s due to the story, a bit overripe and melodramatic. For heaven’s sake, Rosabella falls for Tony minutes after her indiscretion, and we take the rest of the play for him to figure it out, through many self-deprecating pieces about being old. When he finally does, that’s the moment Rosabella discovers she’s pregnant with Joey’s child. It’s a bit much, and needs strong, likable and convincing actors to pull it off. (And it could use some judicious pruning. I even question the on-the-nose aria “Mamma, Mamma”, and wonder if the piece would be improved by cutting it. If you do, purists will string you up, it is lovely and dramatic. But it is also very manipulative, and baldly so.

As time has demonstrated, any of these pieces are at home on either stage. Opera companies get a more legit sound out of the Broadway numbers than perhaps is called for or always welcome. Broadway gets a little less power out of the operatic material than is called for. But these pieces offer a distinct and rich musical experience for performers and audiences, and I’ve never seen anyone who saw or did them and regretted the experience.

One thing about the three-act structure of the piece. Unless you’re doing Dinner Theater, two intermissions is too many, and you should break the piece into a two-act evening. The show runs roughly 2:30 whole. Act I stands at just over an hour. Act II at about 50 minutes – some of which will be lost converting the show to two acts. Act III, about 30 minutes or so.

You may want to place an act break after “Bid D”, it’s a showstopper. (If you cut the Entr’acte, which you’ll need to do, it will end at about 1:15-1:20 in.) But I would go one more number in, to end Act I on the story and a high point in the drama, after “How Beautiful The Day,” all the important players in the drama on stage and singing. This will be at about 1:20, and leave maybe a touch over an hour for a second act (with the Entr’acte and another 2-5 minutes of material cut from what will now be Act I). “Young People” can start Act II, and re-establish the central conflict. The contrast in the dance break of young people dancing as Tony sits in his wheel chair will visually and musically get us back into the play. It will work well. Cut the second entr’acte, as well. In converting the piece to two acts, you can lose the reprise of “Abbondanza” that was used to give Act III a punchy start. The cuts indicated will get rid of perhaps 5-10 minutes or so of show, and are necessary for a two act structure.

You also may wish to make a few deserving cuts. In Act I, there is some material that could be cut without any real loss to the show, especially “Sposalizio,” a large group number of about 3 minutes that does nothing for the story. (“Abbondanza” also does not contribute to the story and could be cut, but it’s a strong, memorable number and fans of the show will resent the cut.) Also in Act I, “Special Delivery” is a funny Musical Comedy piece, but pointless and it slows down the action. Keep it for laughs, though, unless time is an issue. “Benvenuta” can also be cut, though it’s cute. A 4-5 minute number in Italian for three characters (the chefs) uninvolved in the action is an unnecessary if pleasant operatic side trip. (Opera companies will definitely want to keep this! Theater companies, probably not.)

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

This is a sort of opera. The music is uniquely rich, if sometimes a bit shapeless. The vocal abilities demanded of your two leads is operatic. The rest of the roles are largely Musical Comedy types, of the leads and featured variety. One important note, though: Loesser was a masterful lyricist, one of Broadway’s greatest. Opera singers tend to mangle English language lyrics in favor of open vowel sounds. You cannot allow that to happen with this show. The Musical Director must work with the two leads to get beautiful vocal renditions, certainly, but also a clear execution of the lyric.

Additionally, there are tight trio and quartet numbers that require special expertise and care. “Standing On The Corner” is a very tight barbershop-quartet-like piece that must really be tight. “Abbondanza” is a very tight operatic trio for three men. The harmonies in both must land with enthusiasm and clarity.

The Musical Director for this show must have great expertise working with both classical and Broadway-type singers. The amount of music used is prodigious. The energy needed to teach and learn it, equally prodigious. Pianistic expertise will be a must.

And by the way, this show needs its orchestra. I get that there’s a two piano version available, but I wouldn’t go that way unless you’re planning on presenting the piece as a chamber opera, which it is ill-suited for. There’s just too much music for only piano, the sound, the quality of the songs will feel flat and too similar. You need an orchestra, and a good one.

A job for a very expert and experienced Musical Director only.

Tony – A legit, operatic baritone with a gorgeous, romantic and strong voice. Must be able to sing (and speak) with convincing Italian accent. Sings with great energy, can handle patter verse-like lyrics. Should be able to bring dynamic variation to the volume and passion he sings with. You don’t want an opera singer determined to show off all his voice all the time. “How Beautiful The Day” could be sung sotto voce, and should be. The same for the start of “My Heart Is So Full Of You”, where they are face to face and in love for the first time. If he “shouts” it at her full voice, the intimacy of the moment is demolished.

Rosabella – Legit youngish soprano who sings with warmth, anger, real passion.

Joey – Full voiced, classical Musical Comedy dramatic lyric baritone. Has a lot of the most beautiful music with “Joey Joey Joey”, and “Don’t Cry”.

Cleo – Dry, weary mezzo with a great belt, and genuine enthusiasm as a singer. Naturally funny, sings with a Texas accent. Excellent executing quick lyrics. Strong ability to handle Musical Comedy material while singing well.

Herman – Tenor with a fine belt, strong Texas accent at all times, great energy when he sings, an ability to spit a lyric out. Strong ability to handle Musical Comedy material while singing very well, with a well-supported, near operatic voice.

Marie – A legit mezzo with a full, trained operatic mid-register. As Tony’s sister, she must sing operatically.

The Trio of Chefs – All operatic voices that blend extremely well. Bass, baritone, tenor. All Italian language.

Doc – Tenor with a warm, accessible quality, decent high notes. Does a fair amount of singing, some of it quite romantic. The better the voice, the better.

Ensemble – Legit voices that can do some belting without ridiculously heavy vibrato.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

There is so much music in this show, the need for a Choreographer is almost unavoidable. That said, the singing comes first, and the choreography cannot get in the way of it.

A Choreographer may be involved in staging all or part of “The Most Happy Fella”, “Standing On The Corner”, “Abbondanza”, “Sposalizio”, “Big D”, “Young People”, “I Like Everybody”, “I Love Him” / “I Know How It Is (Reprise)” “Hoedown”, “Abbondanza (Reprise)”, “Goodbye, Darlin’” / “I Like Everybody (Reprise)”, “I Made a Fist”, and the “Finale”.

Generally, movement in this show can be energetic, and choreographic, so long as the singers can carry the singing at the same time. Lifts and leaps should be avoided, and you’re probably going to be choreographing non-dancers anyway. Movement should feel “indigenous,” right for the characters and where they live. Large group numbers like “The Most Happy Fella”, and “Sposalizio”, as well as smaller but high energy segments like “Abbondanza”, should be carefully staged with a sense of spontaneous dance breaking out – but the sort of dance normal people might do in that part of the world, rather than “show-biz” kind of movement. Even “Big D”, which is certainly a show tune, should have a down home, hoedown feel to it. Really, try to avoid Broadway-type movement.

The dance should serve the story and characters. Large numbers should never loose sight of the main characters at the core of them.

Specialty numbers can be more crafted and even choreographed, always with the characters and story in mind. These would include “Standing On The Corner”, “Abbondanza”, “I Like Everybody”, “I Love Him” / “I Know How It Is (Reprise)”,”Goodbye, Darlin’” / “I Like Everybody (Reprise)”, and “I Made a Fist”. (As well as possible “Ooh, My Feet”.)

“Corner” is a quartet number. Four men watch girls walking by, and dream. They should move like an impromptu and not entirely staged quartet. “Abbondanza” is a trio, operatic and sung by three men preparing (and juggling and tossing back and forth) food for a feast. These numbers should feel put together, but with an improvisational feel.

Numbers between Cleo and Herman can be fun, a bit athletic, racy, and comic. They can be staged like Broadway specialty numbers, straight up.

The Choreographer for this show needs a good feel for Broadway specialties, and for folk dancing as it might have appeared in the Napa Valley in the late 1920s, from which can be built movement for larger numbers. A “hoedown” feel can permeate “Big D”. But in general, the movement should feel suddenly propelled into being.

No job for an inexperienced Choreographer!

CASTING CONCERNS:

Tony – A mature man in his 40s-60s, with a passionate Italian nature. A man longing for a family, a wife, and willing to tell a foolish lie to get there. Not entirely honorable, but not ill-intentioned. Energetic, vital. The actor really needs to be likable immediately. We need to root for him, and understand why he does what he does, even disagreeing with it. It we don’t pull for him a bit, the show will not work. A star, but usually cast with an actor of insufficient means, who is a singer first. MUST speak Italian well. Cast for voice, acting, type, Italian in that order, but needs to be strong at all of it.

Rosabella – Mid 20s-early 30s. Bright, eager to live, youthful if moving past her prime years, and must be attractive. Openly, easily affectionate, and in fact, openly emotional. Somewhat self-involved, all she sees with the eyes of selfish youth is an “old man”, even when Tony may be dying. All she knows is she’s been cheated., and then she marries Tony and within minutes is in another man’s arms. (Justified by her grief and fear? I hope so, in your production, because if you can’t justify this, she’s a very bad person.) But she is spunky, she tries hard to do the right thing, which helps us like her. Cast for voice, acting, type, needs to be strong at everything.

Joey – 20s-30s. Handsome, masculine, easy-going but hardworking, and suffering endlessly of wanderlust. A manly-man sort with a heart and soul. A bit of a womanizer who “has all he wants of the ladies in the neighborhood.” A bit of a middle-America cowboy type, with typical prejudices.

Cleo – 20s-30s. A dry, world-weary wit, from Texas and proud of it. Great comic timing required, the comic and very welcome relief in the show. She’s a romantic at the core, though she’d never admit it, perhaps. Game for anything, just about. A terrific role, must be performed with energy, confidence, a nasal Texas twang, and a short fuse. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement. Must be strong!

Herman – 20s-30s. A frisky, energetic cowboy type who likes those girls. (“Standing On The Corner”) And falls immediately for fellow Dallas transplant Cleo. (“Big D”) Charming, with a grin that lights up the room. Guileless character who makes a virtue of his blatant honesty in the face of possible relationships, strongly comic actor required. Cast for acting, voice, dance, type. Must be strong.

Marie – Around Tony’s age. His somewhat dour sister, an unhappy woman, single, with only Tony in her life. An essentially unhappy woman, possessive of Tony and overly protective. Cast for voice, type, acting. Must be strong and believable in the role.

The Trio of Chefs – All Italian men, mature, of varying ages and types, but all clearly Italian. They should speak Italian fluently, if possible. You don’t want to teach this much Italian. And they only sing. Cast for voices and types, and Italian.

Doc – 30s-60s. A good-hearted man, direct and easily annoyed at people’s foolishness. Might not be a bad idea to have him be about Tony’s age, and so a good foil for him, able to speak man-to-man to Tony. Must project kindness when needed. Cast for type, acting, voice. Should be pretty strong, a decent comic actor and singer.

Ensemble – Napa Valley types. All must sing very well, most should move well. A big part of the sound of this show.

SETS:

I saw this done on a bare stage, with the orchestra on stage as the backdrop to the action. (It was a full orchestra.) The front of the stage (quite large) was the playing area. No backdrops or set of any kind were used, just simple and few small pieces representative of location which were walked on and off in blackouts, a very effectively, I thought. It was a professional production, and the lighting helped establish the moods well. I did not miss the sets, not one bit, and neither did the audience.

Opera is sort of famous (or notorious) for big sets. I remember seeing an opera once in NYC at the Met, with tho-story sets by Zefferrelli. I remember the sets – but not the opera. I don’t think that’s such a good result for a production. When my brother saw Cats on Broadway, afterwards he got into a cab. The cabby started talking to him (it’s New York), and asked if he’d seen Cats. My brother said “yes”, and the man asked the famous question – did my brother come out humming the sets? (He did not, by the way, the melody eluded him.)

Sets are nice things to have. Every show takes place somewhere, and Musicals tend to place their action in mulitple locations, almost like cinema in many cases. Only that does not work as well for stage as it does for film. A camera can go anywhere. I like Tom Jones (The Fanttasticks) concept of allowing the audience to “imagineer” the set. I think it helps them commit to the show, if they’re provided just enough help by the show. It worked for Shakespeare, folks. I’ve seen Shakespeare with fantastic and complex sets, and I’ve seen it done more as he did it, on a bare stage with just a few suggestions of location. I’ll take bare stage for Shakespeare almost any time.

This approach will not always work for a Musical. Take the set off of Cats, and you have a lot of frantic people dressed as kitties singing about almost nothing, and doing what look to be rather dangerous dances. With the sets, you have all of the above – plus really cool trash cans and stuff. (Sorry, I really dislike Cats. Not cats. Just Cats.) The approach, however, works for most Musicals, which are the closest form today to Shakespearian drama. (Yes, I did say that.) Songs condense action and time in much the way Shakespeare used dialogue, especially poetic dialogue. And (as if you did not know), Shakespeare was one of the very first hit song writers. His comedies, even his dramas, are filled with songs that we still know and sing today! And they were sung on an essentially bare stage.

More. The ancient Greek tragedies that were the very birth of theater were probably sung-through. That is what historians have felt, now, for some time. That’s right – Oedipus Rex was an opera. And perhaps Lysistrata was a Musical Comedy. And they were always performed on what was essentially a bare stage. So this is pretty far removed from being a new idea.

And yet, when we see Musicals performed on bare stages, it always feels a bit advant-garde, somehow freed from the constraints of heavily designed sets and costumes that can illuminate a show, but which can also weigh one down and make it creak – literally.

I have seen some gorgeous sets, and admired them immensely. There are Musicals that almost require a certain sort of set, such as Man Of La Mancha, with its grim, descending and movable staircase, so we know we’re in a dungeon without escape. Will that show work without that set? Sure. Will it be as effective? Probably not as effective, no.

But many classic Musicals are overburdened with technical requirements, and given the cost of today’s productions, that can be highly prohibitive. What’s more, those same shows become “new” when produced in a new and interesting way. In the case of The Most Happy Fella, a show that begs for the trappings of opera, I would seriously consider the no set approach that I saw done recently. It was slick, cut time off an already long show, and cost off an expensive one. And the show felt airy, it felt like it had space to sing into.

The pieces brought in were very simple. Chairs and a long table, all wood and evocative of the California wine company, rustic and natural. The small pieces were well done, well thought out, all of them evoking a place and time. But they were light, simple, and none of them qualified as “sets.” It felt like a very creative (and perhaps necessary) approach. It worked, and especially when the changes were choreographed in and performed in full light.

If you go the traditional route, most of the action takes place in a restaurant, and on Tony’s Farm. The sets aren’t overwhelming in numbers. Blue skies and sweet, puffy clouds in California’s Napa Valley should be implied, and fields of grapes. Even these sets do not need to be overwhelming. This was constructed to be a Broadway Musical, rather than a piece to be produced as opera. And while there are Broadway Musicals with way too many sets, this actually isn’t one of them.

If you can, provide in the lighting and perhaps, suggestively in the set, fields of grapes. The Napa Valley is a quite real place.

If you go the set-less route, than this becomes a job a novice can pull off. If not, you’ll need a Set designer with some expertise.

COSTUMES:

All late 20s California, mostly Napa Valley farmers. Tony can wear a somewhat dapper vest and tie. The workmen, like Joey, are more plainly dressed, in more rugged clothes. Rosabella wears attractive but inexpensive clothes. Cleo is a touch more available to men, and her clothing announces this subtly.
There will be a tendency to dress in earth tones, as we’re on a farm. But do some research into Napa Valley residents in the 1920s.

Get some brightness, some color into the costuming. And make Rosabella stand out as special, even luminous. And always remember that your performers are going to do a lot of singing – they must be able to breathe. You may be able to get a lot of the costuming off the rack, from closets, and thrift stores.

A job for a reasonably experienced costumer.

PROPS:

Food, lots of parties, lots of food. Joey’s bag. A cane and wheelchair for Tony. The pistola. The tie pin Tony leaves Rosabella upon first meeting her. All in all, not a tough job. Keep everything rustic and simple.

LIGHTING:

A job for a pro, with or without sets. The first scene in the restaurant should feel dingy, small,. Late night. After that, it’s the Napa Valley, almost all outdoors. There is so much music to light, and each song develops and needs moods accented. There are many blackouts indicated to cover set changes, but I think the changes should be choreographed in, and the blackouts eliminated. Keep the show moving, it’s long enough.

MAKE-UP:

Unobtrusive except when Tony is injured.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Lighting Designer, Tony, Rosabella, Cloe, Joey, Herman.

MY THOUGHTS:
It’s sort of amazing that Loesser wrote this piece. It certainly borders on opera, though one difference between other operas and this one is that the composer always orchestrates his own score, whereas Loesser was not equipped to do so. This might have been an even better show with some more dialogue and fewer songs.

To do this show requires expert Musical Direction and a cast of trained singers. It can be done successfully with the sets and costumes pretty minimal. In other words, it can be inexpensive as opera or as Musical Theater. Worth a look if you have the singers.