Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barder of Fleet Street is undoubtedly Stephen Sondheim's masterwork.
And when it opened on Broadway in 1979 it not only engendered limitless praise but also frequent comparisons to grand opera.
In fact Sweeney Todd is today regarded by many as an opera.
But 23 years before Sweeney Todd Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella debuted on Broadway with a sung-through score containing an astonishing 25 songs, lush underscoring and sung-recitative pieces that also led to comparisons with opera.
Though Sweeney and Most Happy couldn't be more different (one is largely grim while the other is ultimately joyous) both musicals touch on operatic themes: envy, desire, lust, regret, revenge, life and death, love and hate. And both musicals demand large casts and big voices.
The Most Happy Fella is Frank Loesser’s most ambitious and romantic musical. With a cast of 38 and an orchestra of 38 it's lush and full-throated. It tells the heart-stopping story of an aging Napa Valley farmer, the young, lonely waitress who becomes his mail-order bride, and the restless, handsome ranch hand who turns her head. Though many might regard them as stereotypical the characters in this story are so vivid and so endearing that's it's easy to be seduced by them. And the heart of Most Happy is ever-hopeful.
This show is full of memorable solo numbers, clever duets, funny ensemble pieces and rich, vibrant choral singing -- the kind of rapturous singing we seldom hear on Broadway anymore.
Loesser’s score displays an astonishing range – ardent operatic numbers stand side by side with Broadway show-stoppers, including “Somebody Somewhere”, “My Heart Is So Full of You”, “Big D” and “Standing on the Corner.” 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."
We're so glad we finally had a chance to catch up with The Most Happy Fella this weekend on Broadway as part of City Center's beloved Encores series. The cast (Laura Benanti, Heidi Blickenstaff, Brian Cali, Bradley Dean, Shuler Hensley, Cheyenne Jackson, Zachary James, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Jessica Molaskey and Kevin Vortmann) was superb in what is Encores' most extravagant undertaking this season.
Though this was a limited run, we urge you to try to catch a performance of The Most Happy Fella somewhere along the way as various theater and opera companies seem to be reviving it regularly. Indeed, though the original production of The Most Happy Fella ran for 14 months on Broadway it seems it's actually been running somewhere or another for nearly 60 years.
Interesting footnote: The original 1956 production was financed by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.