Thus sang ‘The Most Happy Fella’

VocalEssence, a local choral group, presents its version of Frank Loesser’s musical.

Megan Kadrmas

When Tony met Rosabella in a San Francisco café, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. At least not for Rosabella, who didn’t even notice Tony, a stout, heavy-set Italian immigrant.

“The Most Happy Fella”

WHEN: 8 p.m., Sat., Oct. 13; 4 p.m., Sun., Oct. 14.
WHERE: Ted Mann Concert Hall, 2128 Fourth St. S., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $25-$35, student discount available, (612) 624-2345, www.vocalessence.org

Then when a local choir director reunited with an ex-University of Minnesota opera professor, the pair fell in love with Tony, Rosabella and the rest of the cast of Frank Loesser’s “The Most Happy Fella.”

Vern Sutton, who directs the production, taught opera at the University for 36 years and was the director of the School of Music for eight. One of his former students, Philip Brunelle, grew up to found and now conducts VocalEssence, a local chorus that has been singing a wide range of contemporary choral pieces since 1969.

Frank Loesser’s name might ring a bell or two. He also wrote “Guys and Dolls.” And “The Most Happy Fella” is Loesser’s follow-up to that Broadway success.

“Many scholars call this play an opera,” he added. The debate over how to classify the play stems from the fact that the majority of the play is sung, not spoken. The vocals are intended to sound classical and finely tuned like an opera, whereas most Broadway shows are written to sound slightly off-key.

The play follows Tony, a Napa Valley vineyard owner, on his pursuit for the love of Rosabella, a beautiful waitress. After sending her a picture of Joe, his handsome foreman, Rosabella agrees to come to Napa to marry Tony.

Things get complicated when Rosabella discovers Tony’s deceit, but decides to stay in Napa because she sees Tony’s kind spirit. But she still has a little somethin-somethin for hottie Joe and ends up getting pregnant with his child – scandalous stuff for the late 1950s.

“The Most Happy Fella” is different from most Broadway shows because the play is mostly singing – and good singing, too.

Sutton said many Broadway shows are written to be sung slightly off-key. In contrast, Tony’s character was originally written for a Metropolitan Opera singer, lending the entire production an operatic feel.

Since “The Most Happy Fella” is essentially all singing, the choir plays a vital role in the production.

“About every four or five years, we like to do a musical,” Brunelle explained as their reasoning for settling on this play. “But it has to be a musical that has an important part for the choir.”

They decided to use a semi-staged format for the show, partially because of the short amount of time they would be performing the show and partially because of the nature of the show itself.

“It’s basically a concert but the actors are singing from memory,” Sutton said.

Even though there won’t be a full set or detailed costumes, the actors hope the unexpectedly classic style of the music and the dramatic nature of the plot will cause the audience to fill in the gaps in the production with none other than their imaginations.