*The Most Happy Fella* is a musical from 1956, with lyrics, music, and book by Frank Loesser. I saw it Saturday (4/5) with Karen and our friend Herb. It was done by Encores!, the same group that did *Little Me* a few months ago.
This show is what I’d classify A Glorious Mess. One of my favorite genres, truly. It’s a rather unpleasant story for a splashy Broadway musical - - it’s about an middle-aged guy getting married to a young woman, after only having written with her. I won’t give you the whole plot, but she sleeps with a hunky young guy on their wedding night (on their wedding night, if I may repeat myself), which of course leads to a pregnancy in the second act. There’s lots of other stuff going on, naturally, but that’s the basic outline of the plot.
There’s nothing wrong with taking on big dramatic issues in a Broadway musical - - *Show Boat* did this so wonderfully back in 1929, and *Carousel* in 1945, and *West Side Story* better than any of them, a year later, in 1957. The problem is that Loesser doesn’t integrate the drama with the comedy. The show lurches from a romantic or intense dramatic number for the leads to a dazzling tap number for the comedy duo and chorus, or worse, a wacky ethnic number for the three Eye-talian tenors. A good show (like the three mentioned above) works out these transitions so it all feels like it’s part of the same show. *The Most Happy Fella* feels like you’re flipping channels between *One Life to Live* and a Mitzi Gaynor variety show (that actually sounds right up my alley).
But there’s a lot to love in this show. The high point, for me, was the hunky guy’s song, “Joey, Joey, Joey”. It’s one of the loveliest songs ever, and Cheyenne Jackson totally had the goods, he sang it so beautifully. He was helped by a sublime orchestration by Don Walker. I had to look him up on ibdb - - he also did *Carousel*, *Finian’s Rainbow*, *Call Me Madam*, *Wonderful Town*, and a whole mess of other shows. In the last verse, Walker has the strings shimmering, the harp adding luster, and the celesta (plink, plink, plink) putting stars in the sky. Absolute magic.
Shuler Hensley did a good job as the middle-aged guy. Karen and I saw him in *Waiting for Godot* and *No Man’s Land*. This role is often sung by an opera singer, and Hensley doesn’t have a traditionally handsome voice, but there’s something really sincere and likeable about him, that goes a long way. The great Laura Benanti played the young wife. Karen thought her singing was a little disjointed, unlike Jackson, who was smooth as glass.
Strangely enough, we had more amusing things happen on the sidewalk outside the theater. We had an interaction with The Plaid Twins, and a non-celebrity sighting. Some you remember reading about The Plaid Twins a few years ago. Here’s what I said about them back in 2008, in my review of *Tristan und Isolde*:
Sometime last fall, Richard and I were at some cultural event and spotted a gay couple, probably in their 60s, both of them shortish and gray-haired, both wearing identical jeans and identical plaid shirts. Richard had said to me, within a month of us first having started dating, that the day I suggest we wear matching outfits is the day it’s officially over, so these two were particularly memorable.
My friend Claudia and I saw them again at the Met, at *Iphigénie en Tauride*, and then Richard and I saw them at *Lulu* at BAM, then *Broadway Unplugged* at Town Hall. We told Karen about them at *Jerry Springer: the Opera* at Carnegie Hall, because they were sitting right in front of us, and she remarked that it seems creepy that in these enormous concert halls, they’re always sitting close to us. Let me hasten to add that they wear matching plaid shirts every time we see them. The shirts vary - - they may be a red plaid on white, or gray on blue, but they always match. Karen said that there’s something Twilight Zone-ish going on, that the two of them are actually Richard and I ten or twenty years from now, and this was supported when she and I went to *Manon Lescaut* at the Met two nights later: Richard wasn’t along for that show, and only ONE of the Plaid Twins was there. Richard and I decided that the next time we saw them, we’d have to say something.
Richard and I went to see *Peter Grimes* at the Met on Friday 3/7 (a week before I saw *Tristan*). We got up to the Family Circle, and there they were. I said, “Oh my God! Look, it’s them! We have to talk with them during the intermission.” Richard smiled at me, took my hand, and led me over to them. Karen gave them the priceless nicknames of Plaidledee and Plaidledum, which I will employ here:
RICHARD: Hello, you don’t know us, but we go to the theatre with you all the time!
PLAIDLEDEE: [laughs] Oh really?
RICHARD: Yes. We saw you at *Jerry Springer*…
ME: And *Lulu* at BAM…
ME: And I saw one of you at *Manon Lescaut*.
PLAIDLEDUM: No, we were both there.
PLAIDLEDEE: Yes, we were both there.
ME: Hm, I guess I just saw one of you.
RICHARD: Well, we just wanted to say hello.
PLAIDLEDEE: Isn’t it funny. In such a big city, you feel like you’re anonymous.
ME: Well, you two are very distinctive.
PLAIDLEDEE: I suppose so, with the shirts. But it’s funny how you run into the same people all the time.
RICHARD: Yes, it’s a small world.
ME: It’s a small town!
RICHARD: Anyway, we just wanted to say hello. I’m sure we’ll see each other again.
PLAIDLEDEE: [laughs] Yes, I’m sure we will. Nice to meet you.
PLAIDLEDUM: Enjoy the show.
RICHARD: Thank you, you too.
I was so over the moon with Richard at that moment, he handled it so deftly. And who are they kidding, thinking they’re anonymous? You don’t just happen to wear matching shirts every time you go out in public.
_ _ _
I saw them many, many more times in the Family Circle at the Met, probably ten or twelve times. The last time I saw them, before this weekend, was at a revival of *Carrie: the Musical*, maybe two years down at the Lucille Lortel in the Village. Of course they had seen the original production.
I asked them if they’d stopped going to the Met, and they’re now buying rush tickets the day of a performance, so they sit in better seats. They are the sweetest guys, it was a treat to see them again. By the way, they’re both named Joe. Boggles the imagination.
OK, and we also had a non-celebrity sighting. It happened on two levels: first, the celebrity at hand is Hallie Foote. Hardly a celebrity, right? She’s a theatre actor, the daughter of Horton Foote, the playwright of *The Trip to Bountiful* and two-time Oscar winner for his screenplays of *To Kill a Mockingbird* and *Tender Mercies*. But more importantly, I classify this as a non-celebrity sighting because Hallie Foote wasn’t even there. Karen Miller was standing in for her, my dear friend Karen Miller. A random woman came up to her outside the City Center and said, “Excuse me, I love your father’s work.” Karen has been mistaken for Hallie Foote a few times, and I’m afraid it’s not much of a compliment. Foote is a very skilled actor, but she’s nearly 15 years older than Karen, and somewhat mannish in her appearance. Karen prefers to be mistaken for Christine Lahti - - she’s also much older than Karen, but at least she’s sexy.