The Most Happy Fella

Hale Centre Theatre West Valley’s “The Most Happy Fella” is a mostly happy musical, filled with fantastic singing, dancing and merriment, but slightly hindered by problems in the show’s structure and plotting.

Set in 1934, the story is about Tony (Bruce Bredeson), a Three Tenors-looking Italian fellow who owns a winery in California’s Napa Valley. He is beloved of all his employees and friends, but his love is for a woman he doesn’t even know — a waitress named Amy (Anne Barrus), whom he calls Rosabella.

He leaves her a simple, heart-felt note after eating at her restaurant — everything Tony does is simple and heart-felt — and the two engage in a correspondence. She doesn’t remember him as a customer, so she asks for his photo. Fearing that she will think him too old and fat, he sends a picture of the strapping young Joe (Michael Maxfield) instead.

On the day that Rosabella is to arrive so she and Tony can be married, Tony is dismayed to learn Joe is still around (he thought he was moving away). Naturally, Rosabella thinks Joe is Tony, and after learning the truth, she feels humiliated and seeks comfort in Joe’s arms, liking him a lot apparently because he’s attractive.

The marriage takes place anyway, largely due to Rosabella’s sympathy for Tony after he’s in a car accident. The rest of the play focuses on … well, a lot of things. She doesn’t need to “learn to love” Tony; she already fell in love with him through his letters. If his being older than her is an issue, it’s not made to seem like a major one.

Just when you think things are settling in for a nice resolution, though, there’s a new conflict late in the second act. This helps establish that while Tony was wrong for sending Joe’s picture, Rosabella is not perfect either.

The problem is, Tony’s and Rosabella’s reasons for committing their separate mistakes are not really explained. We know Tony was afraid Rosabella wouldn’t like him if she saw what he really looked like, and his thought process when he sends Joe’s picture is rather touching, as he recognizes himself as too undesirable. But what did he think would happen when she showed up to marry him? It’s a terribly ill-conceived plan, making him look like a mischievous child who thinks only as far ahead as his next lie. Rosabella’s actions seem just as strange and under-explained.

That, ultimately, is the point of the show — that we often go against all rational thinking and do things that simply don’t make sense. The show’s awkwardness in expressing this may be because we’re not accustomed to our musical characters being so human.

Performances all around are top-notch — one of the hallmarks at Hale Centre Theatre West Valley. Bredeson is especially good as the loud, kind-hearted, stereotypical Italian who frequently acts on impulse rather than reason. Barrus is also sympathetic as Rosabella, and Jeni Carver as her waitress friend Cleo commands attention every time she appears.

The show features quite a few big song-and-dance numbers, each more rousing and energetic than the last. The pre-recorded musical accompaniment often sounds annoyingly synthesized, but the boisterous voices and comical proceedings generally make up for that.

This is one of Frank Loesser's lesser-performed shows, though it did have a nice revival on Broadway in the early '90s. It was one of his personal favorites, and one can see that he was trying to go beyond the superficial sunniness that pervades a lot of musicals (and that particularly was the rule when he wrote this).