The Most Happy Fella

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The Most Happy Fella
London Studio Cast Recording
MusicFrank Loesser
LyricsFrank Loesser
BookFrank Loesser
BasisThey Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard
Productions1956 Broadway
1959 Broadway revival
1960 West End
1979 Broadway revival
1980 US television
1991 Goodspeed Opera House
1991 Ahmanson Theatre
1992 Broadway revival
2006 New York City Opera
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The Most Happy Fella
London Studio Cast Recording
MusicFrank Loesser
LyricsFrank Loesser
BookFrank Loesser
BasisThey Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard
Productions1956 Broadway
1959 Broadway revival
1960 West End
1979 Broadway revival
1980 US television
1991 Goodspeed Opera House
1991 Ahmanson Theatre
1992 Broadway revival
2006 New York City Opera

The Most Happy Fella is a 1956 musical with a book, music, and lyrics by Frank Loesser. The story, about a romance between an older man and younger woman, is based on the play They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard. The original Broadway production ran for 14 months and it has enjoyed several revivals, including one staged by the New York City Opera.


Background and history[edit]

A friend of Loesser's recommended the Howard play They Knew What They Wanted as material for a musical in 1952. After he read it, he agreed it had musical potential, but decided to omit the political, labor, and religious material. It took him four years to complete the musical.[1]

The Most Happy Fella frequently has been described as an opera, but some have qualified the term.[1][2][3] In his book The World of Musical Comedy, Stanley Green noted that the musical is "one of the most ambitiously operatic works ever written for the Broadway theatre...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.' "[1] In an article in the Playbill Magazine for the original Broadway production, Loesser wrote, "What was left seemed to me to be a very warm simple love story, happy ending and all, and dying to be sung and danced."[4] Brooks Atkinson, theatre critic (The New York Times), called it a "music drama," noting Loesser "has now come about as close to opera as the rules of Broadway permit."[5] Composer, conductor, and musical theatre teacher Lehman Engel and critic/author Howard Kissel called it a "fresh musical (perhaps opera)".[6] It is one of the first musicals that is almost completely sung through. There are not a lot of straight dialogue scenes.


Act 1

In the Golden Gate Restaurant in San Francisco in 1927, the young tired and harassed waitresses Cleo and Rosabella commiserate with each other. Cleo's feet hurt ("Ooh My Feet") and Rosabella has fended off the cashier's advances ("I Know How It Is"). As they clean up ("Seven Million Crumbs"), Rosabella finds a tie pin and a note addressed to her, written in odd broken English. The writer is not sure of his English ("I Don't Know (The Letter)"), but Rosabella decides to answer, thinking of the possibilities ("Somebody, Somewhere").

In Napa, the mailman has another letter for Tony Esposito, who has been enjoying a "mail order love affair" for the past four months. Tony, an Italian grape farmer who is a large and hearty older man, happily shows the crowd his "girlfriend"'s picture ("The Most Happy Fella").

Since Tony realizes he cannot send a picture of himself in return, he asks the younger and handsome Joe, the farm foreman, for one of himself. When Rosabella arrives at the town a few weeks later, Joe confesses he is not Tony, and she, upset at the subterfuge, tries to leave. However, Tony has been injured in a truck accident, and pleads with Rosabella to stay and marry him immediately, in case he does not live. She relents and they marry. Joe is upset but tries to comfort her ("Don't Cry"), and Rosabella realizes that she has feelings for him as well — they embrace.

Act 2

Tony's jealous sister Marie tries to convince Tony that the age difference between him and Rosabella is too great. Cleo now lives in Napa because Tony has hired her, mainly to keep Rosabella company. She urges Rosabella to tell Tony of her feelings, as Tony is treating her like a child rather than a wife ("I Love Him/I Know How it Is"). Tony, overjoyed by her expression of love, discards his cane ("My Heart Is So Full of You"). Later Rosabella collapses at a party ("Hoedown"), and the doctor tells her she is pregnant. She is uncomfortable with this news, and Cleo rushes her away before she can tell Tony.

Act 3

In Tony's barn a short time later, the preparations for the wedding party are taking place ("Abbondanza"). Rosabella finally tells Tony she is pregnant and is returning to San Francisco. Tony understands he is not the baby's father. She and Cleo leave, but when Tony discovers Joe is leaving as well, he becomes very angry because he believes they are leaving together. He rushes to the bus station with a gun to confront them, but Joe has already left, and Rosabella is waiting for the bus. Marie begs her brother to let her go ("Nobody's Ever Gonna Love You"), but Cleo has a physical fight with Marie. Tony convinces Rosabella to return to their home, where they will tell their friends and the townspeople Tony is the father.

Song list[edit]

Act I
  • "Overture" - Orchestra
  • "Ooh! My Feet!" - Cleo
  • "I Know How It Is" - Cleo
  • "The Letter" - Rosabella
  • "Maybe He's Kind of Crazy" - Rosabella
  • "Somebody, Somewhere" - Rosabella
  • "The Most Happy Fella" - Tony and Company
  • "The Letter Theme" - Marie and Tony
  • "Standing on the Corner" - Herman, Jake, Clem and Al
  • "Joey, Joey, Joey" - Joe
  • "Soon You Gonna Leave Me, Joe" - Tony
  • "Rosabella" - Tony
  • "Abbondanza" - Pasquale, Giuseppe and Ciccio
  • "Plenty Bambini" - Tony
  • "Sposalizio" - Giuseppe, Ciccio, Pasquale and Company
  • "Special Delivery!" - The Postman
  • "Benvenuta" - Pasquale, Ciccio and Giuseppe
  • "Aren't You Glad?" - Rosabella
  • "No Home, No Job" - Rosabella
  • "Don't Cry" - Joe
Act II
  • "Prelude Act II"
  • "Fresno Beauties" / "Cold and Dead" - Ensemble, Joe and Rosabella
  • "Love and Kindness" - The Doctor
  • "Happy to Make Your Acquaintance" - Tony, Rosabella and Cleo
  • "I Don't Like This Dame" - Marie and Cleo
  • "Big D" - Herman, Cleo and Ensemble
  • "How Beautiful the Days" - Tony, Rosabella and Joe
  • "Young People" - Marie, Tony and Ensemble
  • "Warm All Over" - Rosabella
  • "Old People" - Tony
  • "I Like Everybody" - Herman and Cleo
  • "I Love Him" / "I Know How It Is (Reprise)" - Rosabella and Cleo
  • "Like a Woman Loves a Man" - Rosabella and Tony
  • "My Heart Is So Full of You" - Tony and Rosabella
  • "Hoedown" - Orchestra
  • "Mamma, Mamma" - Tony
  • "Prelude Act III"
  • "Abbondanza (Reprise)" - Pasquale, Giuseppe and Ciccio
  • "Goodbye, Darlin'" / "I Like Everybody (Reprise)" - Cleo and Herman
  • "Song of a Summer Night" - The Doctor and Ensemble
  • "Please Let Me Tell You" - Rosabella
  • "Tell Tony and Rosabella Goodbye for Me" - Joe
  • "She Gonna Come Home Wit' Me" - Tony
  • "Nobody's Ever Gonna Love You" - Marie and Tony
  • "I Made a Fist" - Cleo and Herman
  • "Finale" - Tony, Rosabella and Ensemble


Directed by Joseph Anthony and choreographed by Dania Krupska, the original Broadway production was produced by Kermit Bloomgarden and opened on May 3, 1956 at the Imperial Theatre, transferred to The Broadway Theatre on October 21, 1957 and closed on December 14, 1957 after 676 performances. The cast included Robert Weede as Tony, Jo Sullivan as Rosabella, Art Lund as Joey, Susan Johnson as Cleo, Shorty Long as Herman, Mona Paulee as Marie, and Zina Bethune as Tessie. The scenic and lighting design was by Jo Mielziner.

The original production was partially bankrolled by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The 1957 I Love Lucy episode "Lucy's Night In Town" focuses on the Ricardos and Mertzes going to a sold-out performance. Three songs from the show are heard in scenes showing the characters sitting in the theater. At one point, Fred Mertz is inspired by the title to remark, "The guy is not married."

The New York City Center staged a limited run of 16 performances from February 10 through February 22, 1959.

The West End production, directed by Jerome Eskow, opened at the London Coliseum on April 21, 1960 and ran for 288 performances. The cast included Inia Wiata as Tony, Helena Scott as Rosabella, Art Lund as Joey, Libi Staiger as Cleo, Jack De Lon as Herman, and Nina Verushka as Marie.

A Broadway revival began previews at the Majestic Theatre on September 20, 1979, officially opened on October 11, and closed on November 25, 1979 after 53 performances and 23 previews. Directed by Jack O'Brien, set design by Douglas W. Schmidt, costumes by Nancy Potts, lighting by Gilbert Vaughn Hemsley, Jr., orchestrations by Don Walker, and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, it starred Giorgio Tozzi as Tony, Frederick Burchinal as Tony (Wed. and Sat. matinees), Sharon Daniels as Rosabella, Linda Michelle as Rosabella (Wed. and Sat. matinees), Adrienne Leonetti as Marie, Steven Alex-Cole as Max, Dennis Warning as Herman, Dean Badolato as Clem, David Miles as Jake, Kevin Wilson as Al, Stephen Dubov as Sheriff, Gene Varrone as Giuseppe, Darren Nimnicht as Pasquale, Tim Flavin as Busboy, Dan O'Sullivan as Postman, Franco Spoto as Ciccio, Joe McGrath as Doctor, Lawrence Asher as Priest, Michael Capes as Bus Driver, Bill Hastings as Cashier/brakeman, Louisa Flaningam as Cleo, and Richard Muenz as Joe. The production was filmed and later broadcast by PBS in 1980. A 2-DVD set of this PBS performance was preserved and is for sale to the public - see for details.

A New York City Opera production ran from September 4 through October 18, 1991. Directed by Arthur Alan Seidelman, it starred Louis Quilico as Tony, Elizabeth Walsh as Rosabella, and Karen Ziemba as Cleo.[7]

The Goodspeed Opera House presented the musical, directed by Gerald Gutierrez, in May and June 1991. This production had two pianos instead of a full orchestra, using a Loesser-approved piano arrangement by Robert Page.[8] The production was then staged by the Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for ten weeks starting in October 1991. In exchange for mounting the show, the Center Theatre Group was able to share in potential Broadway profits.[9]

Based on the Goodspeed production, with most of the cast and creative team intact, a Broadway revival began previews at the Booth Theatre on January 24, 1992, officially opened on February 13, and closed on August 30 after 229 performances. Again directed by Gerald Guttierrez, the cast included Spiro Malas as Tony, Sophie Hayden as Rosabella, Charles Pistone as Joe, Claudia Catania as Marie, Liz Larsen as Cleo, and Scott Waara as Herman.

The Ravinia Festival in Chicago presented a concert version with George Hearn as Tony and Rod Gilfry as Joe on July 20, 2007.[10]

The New York City Opera presented a limited engagement with Paul Sorvino as Tony and Lisa Vroman as Rosabella between March 7–25, 2006.[11][12]

In February 2013 Tulsa Opera will present a production directed by Dorothy Danner and conducted by Kostis Protopapas, featuring Kim Josephson as Tony, Katrina Thurman as Rosabella and Christopher Feigum as Joe.


The Original Broadway cast album was re-released on November 15, 1991 by Sony (ASIN: B0000027TC). The 1992 Broadway revival cast album was produced by RCA Victor Broadway (ASIN: B000003FBK) and released on June 9, 1992. Jay Records released a "complete" studio recording (CDJAY2 1306), including material that had been cut, on July 11, 2000. The recording featured Louis Quilico as Tony.[13]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

1956Tony AwardBest MusicalNominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a MusicalRobert WeedeNominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a MusicalJo SullivanNominated
Best Direction of a MusicalJoseph AnthonyNominated
Best ChoreographyDania KrupskaNominated
Best Conductor and Musical DirectorHerbert GreeneNominated
Theatre World AwardSusan JohnsonWon

1979 Broadway revival[edit]

1980Tony AwardBest Performance by a Leading Actor in a MusicalGiorgio TozziNominated
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Actor in a MusicalNominated

1992 Broadway revival[edit]

1992Tony AwardBest RevivalNominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a MusicalSophie HaydenNominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a MusicalScott WaaraWon
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a MusicalLiz LarsenNominated
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding RevivalNominated
Outstanding Actor in a MusicalSpiro MalasNominated
Outstanding Actress in a MusicalSophie HaydenNominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a MusicalScott WaaraWon
Outstanding Featured Actress in a MusicalLiz LarsenNominated
Outstanding Director of a MusicalGerald GutierrezNominated
Theatre World AwardSpiro MalasWon


  1. ^ a b c Green, pp. 266-267
  2. ^ "Review, New York City Opera",, accessed August 20, 2009
  3. ^ "The music-the more operatic stuff..." Simon, John (September 16, 1991). "Good Fella", The New York Magazine, p. 66
  4. ^ Block, Geoffrey. Enchanted Evenings (2004). Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-516730-9. p. 216
  5. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (May 4, 1956). "Theatre: Loesser's Fine Music Drama". The New York Times, p. 20
  6. ^ Engel, Lehman; Kissel, Howard (2006). Words with Music: Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 1-55783-554-3, p. 295
  7. ^ Guernsey, Otis L.; Sweet, Jeffrey; Hirschfeld, Al. Theater Yearbook 1991-1992 (1992), Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 1-55783-147-5, p. 289
  8. ^ Rich, Frank."Review/Theater; Rethought, Refined and Revived: Goodspeed's 'Most Happy Fella'"The New York Times, May 30, 1991
  9. ^ Isenberg, Barbara."Stage:Most 'Happy' Again",Los Angeles Times, October 13, 1991
  10. ^ Gans, Andrew."Ravinia Festival to Feature Hearn in Happy Fella and Mitchell and Headley in Concert",, November 27, 2006
  11. ^ Gans, Andrew."Paul Sorvino Is a Most Happy Fella Beginning March 4",, March 4, 2006
  12. ^ " 'The Most Happy Fella' at City Opera, 21 Mar 2006",, accessed August 16, 2009
  13. ^ The Most Happy Fella, accessed August 16, 2009


External links[edit]